Chicago — February, 1922
“A’right, a’right, get movin’,” Jimmy (James) Tyler snapped. He waved away a man in a crisp, rouge suit. He was short and thin and looked like a lounge-singer got lost in a tailor’s ship. Jimmy frowned. Who did he think he was, waltzing into this place? This was their warehouse and their booze, and no one was getting in the way of things. The man in the red suit held up his hands with a suave smile.
“Hey, hey! Relax, Mac! We’re all friends here.” He gave the crates along the wall an interesting look. Carefully, he stowed his hands in his pockets. “Look… our place is runnin’ into a little… issue with your employer. Lemme be straight. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours… pass over some of those crates, you get a nice paycheck and a nicer bonus.”
Jimmy frowned and crossed his thick arms over his chest. The man in the suit was much smaller than him. He could crush him like an aluminum can. He didn’t, but it was clear from the quick onceover he gave the man that he briefly considered doing so.
“Alright, Mac,” he said condescendingly. “Who you workin’ for?”
Red Suit gave a noncommittal hand gesture. “You want a name? And to ruin all this goddamn mystique we got goin’? No way, pally. You cut your ties with Alice’s Boozy Wonderland over there, and then we can talk.”
Jimmy had heard enough. With a snap of his fingers, two of his lackeys, Donald and Frankie, picked up Red Suit under his arms and dragged him out of the warehouse.
“Woah! Woah, woah, easy fellas! I ain’t done nothin’ wrong! Just a friendly chat!” He wriggled, his crooked hat going a little wonky as he dug in his heels and tried to fight. “C’mon! You’re missing a valuable opportunity!”
Jimmy snorted and turned his back. “Not interested.”
Red Suit didn’t get much of a chance to get his feet under him before he was thrown — rudely and harshly — onto the rain-slick pavement outside the warehouse. He caught himself before he kissed the asphalt, twisting in time to see Donald and Frankie laughing as they made a slow, casual retreat. The man grimaced. Fine. If they wanted to play that way, they would play the game. It took force to scare these boys.
Roman stood up and shook out his red suit coat. He was a negotiator. Most times, he was the schmoozer that was brought in and used to make things sway in their direction. Apparently, this was not one of those times. He smoothed his hands down the front of his coat, grimacing at the dirt and puddle water that soaked into the fabric. With a frown, he went to the car that was waiting for him. A man in a black suit waited for him against the car, his arms crossed over his chest and face illuminated by the ruby spec of light from his cigarette. The light glinted oddly on his glasses, but Roman could see icy blue eyes watching him through the glass. Roman gestured to himself incredulously.
“Look at this!” The man looked and was unmoved. Roman gave an anguished cry. “Those backwater rat-faced penny-pushers got mud on my jacket!”
Still, the man stared blankly, his hip leaning back against the hood of the car casually. He seemed spectacularly unbothered. Roman huffed.
“Don’t look at me like that. I like this jacket.”
The man took a long drag and took his cigarette from his lips, tapping the end and dropping hissing ash into a puddle. “You like all of your jackets.”
“But this one was my favorite,” Roman whined. He stepped forward, bracing his hands on either side of the man’s hips and effectively bracketing him. He was pinned to the car and he didn’t seem to mind. Roman sniffled melodramatically. “Logan. They’ve ruined my jacket.”
Logan stared at him. “Don’t make the face.”
“I’m gonna to make the face.”
“Don’t make the face.”
Roman’s bottom lip wobbled and his eyes, a startling green, shone with unshed tears. He was a damn good actor and Logan was helpless every time. After looking at the sad and sorry expression for a solid minute, Logan took a deep breath… and dropped his cigarette on the ground and crushed it. Roman let out a melodramatic whimper and Logan groaned, “Fine.”
With a giggle and a bounce, Roman stepped back and dug in his pockets. “Good! Go ahead, I’ll be here…” he found his packet of cigs and tapped it against his palm. “Got a light, hot thing?”
Logan pulled a metal, rectangle lighter from his pocket and pushed it into Roman’s hand, already heading for the warehouse. Roman was calm and satisfied, leaning his hip against the car as he perched the cigarette between his lips. In all honesty, this was only his third favorite suit (and second favorite jacket). But work was work and they needed the supplies.
He flicked the lighter, a soft snick-snick-snick as it failed to light. He watched Logan disappear around the back of the warehouse. Snick-snick-snick. No light. Just a spark that died. He heard shouting, confused, then angry… snick-snick-snick. A good spark. Roman breathed deep when the cigarette glowed. He breathed out and smiled.
Loud and rattling like an air-popper being magnified. He heard it ring off the metal of the warehouse. He flinched at the pop of it, a quiet laugh bubbling in his lungs as he watched Jimmy, Donald, and Frankie scramble out of the warehouse. They went running, shouting and hollering as the gunfire paused and left a ringing sound in the air.
Roman smiled as they approached. “What’s wrong fellas? Gonna breeze so soon?”
They didn’t spare him a second look, they just kept running, sprinting past him and his nice car on the way to safety. Or whatever they assumed was safety. Roman took a casual drag from his cigarette and let the smoke out of his lungs. Once the oaf and his goons had cleared the area, Roman sauntered around to the back entrance of the warehouse, poking his head around the corner and grinning when he saw the silver of Logan’s gun.
“Hey there, Smokin’ Barrel.” He jauntily walked into the warehouse, a fond expression on his face as he approached Logan. He flicked up the end of Logan’s hat and kissed his nose. “Done burning powder?”
“Waste of bullets,” Logan said briefly. He clicked open the barrel of the pistol, spun it, and frowned as he clicked it back into place. “Waste of time…”
“It’s not a waste!” Roman said as he found a crowbar next to a crate. There, he popped the lid and shoved it onto the floor. Then he pulled out his prize: shining bottle of bootleg whiskey. “Oooh! Look at that amber glow!”
Logan gave him an unimpressed look as he carefully held his hot gun away from his thigh. Roman waved the bottle, trying to get him excited… but Logan wasn’t swayed. Roman shrugged.
“I’m keeping it.”
Logan glanced at his watch. “Plenty of crates… if we clean this place out, we could give Lollie a run for her money.”
Roman blew a raspberry before he pulled the cork from the whiskey. The pop was satisfying. A good seal-break was always satisfying. “Lollie’s joint isn’t my scene. Only reason people go to that drum is because she’s got dames, and dames is nothin’ but trouble.” He glanced at Logan over his shoulder and winked. “It’s why I like you so much, Bo.”
Logan hummed and cracked open another crate. Roman sniffed the whiskey and let out an impressed, “Woo! That’s a good one. Logan! Have a drink with me, hmm? We’ll get dizzy! Always fun to drive while dizzy!”
“No,” Logan said stiffly as he reached in and pulled out bourbon. “They’ve got a wide selection. I’ve got corn over here.”
“Everyone likes some good corn liquor,” Roman tipped the whiskey back, coughed, and laughed. “It’s a good time to be alive, Logan!”
Logan glanced at him. “You think 1922 is a good year?”
“You know what they say ‘bout ‘22!” Roman said authoritatively. Logan stared and Roman gave a halfhearted shrug. “It’s… one more than ‘21.”
“That is some compelling math.”
Roman slapped the cork back on the whiskey (breaking and crumbling the cork in the process) and slung his arm around Logan’s shoulders. “Kiss me Logan. We’re on the wrong side of history.”
“I fail to see how those statements correlate.”
Roman pursed his lips and pushed Logan’s glasses up on his nose. “Kiss me and we’ll find out.”
Logan put one arm around his waist and a hand on the back of his neck, kissing Roman deep and tasting the spark and burn of whiskey. It hung like a smoke between them, a strong scent that made Logan’s stomach clutch just slightly. He kissed again for good measure and Roman pulled away with a dreamy smile.
“Lookit you, all riled up and steamed,” he tugged on the lapels of Logan’s jacket, pulling their bodies together until they were connected hip to chest. Roman bit his lower lip and grinned. “We’re alone out here. No one to bother us.”
“Unless those idiots rat us out,” Logan said sternly. Still, he couldn’t stop a spark of interest that settled in his belly. He kept that hand on Roman’s waist, pulling him closer as he was backed up against a crate of illegal alcohol. Roman leaned forward to kiss and nip at his neck and Logan’s carefully constructed air of control started to waver. “We… not here. Let’s go back. Virgil can come pick up the crates with the truck.”
Roman hummed and licked at the salt on his neck. “We got whiskey, we got time…”
Logan cleared his throat. “We… I have… a jalopy.”
Roman leaned back and smiled excitedly. “You want to get in the back of your jalopy and make it rock?”
Logan winced. “Bad for the suspension.”
“Bad for my back,” Roman grinned as he leaned forward and kissed Logan again. “But I’m not complaining.”
“You love it.”
Logan dragged him forward and kissed him again. This was irresponsible. They were there for a reason. And that reason was to save the bar. And the bar was slowly but surely digging itself out of massive debt… but, this was the era of prohibition. The era where speakeasies like The Patron were sought out with a passion. They were en route to earn money hand over fist once they got back on their feet.
Ever since last year, things had been different. They were changing, and change was good… but it had still sent all of them, all six of them, off kilter. And it all started with Patton A. Moore in the year 1921.
Chicago — May 15ᵗʰ, 1921
Patton slipped into the bar with a strained smile. He always wore those strained smiles those days, along with a crisp blue suit and his thin, delicate glasses. He wasn’t tall, but he wasn’t short. He was a happy medium. A happy medium that was slowly but surely vibrating with anxiety.
The bar was practically empty. Roman was slouched against the front of the stage, his fingers lazily wiggling over his trumpet while he blew out soft, tired jazz. On the stage, Roman’s brother, Remus, was crooning into the microphone. For identical twins, they looked fairly different. Roman was dressed in red and Remus was in black. Roman’s face was clean and shaved, making him look so much younger… and Remus’s mustache gave him a mysterious air. On the stage, Remus snapped his fingers slow and casually, like the relaxed (bored) atmosphere was all part of the plan. Two customers were in the bar. One of them was unconscious and draped over his table. Patton wrung his hands; they couldn’t make money like this.
He went to the bar and leaned his elbows on the wood, tugging at his collar uneasily. Behind the bar, Virgil stood tall and strong, lifting and moving crates around the back before he glanced at Patton.
“Need a drink, Mr. Moore?”
“I need a drink like I need a bullet in the head,” Patton said with that tense smile. Virgil poured him a shot. Patton knocked it back and hissed. Patton looked at his sorry excuse of a speakeasy… and sighed. “It’s almost closin’ time.” He looked at Virgil helplessly. “Did we have anyone else here tonight?”
Virgil looked a little sad when he shook his head. “Nope. Just these two mugs.”
Patton sighed and slid off the barstool. “I need to check some things in my office.”
Virgil watched him with tired eyes. “Take it easy, boss.”
Taking it easy was not an option. Not for Patton Moore. He was deep in the hole. He was barely able to scrape enough money together to pay his workers, let alone keep the lights on. Without cash, he couldn’t get bootleg alcohol. Without alcohol, he couldn’t run a speakeasy. It was all snowballing and people weren’t coming anymore.
Patton knew last years’ ‘incident’ was to blame. People didn’t want to go someplace that had been labeled ‘unstable.’ In their absence, other joints had popped up. Lollie’s “Wonderland” had been stealing the vast majority of their clients. Now Patton was out of money, out of resources, and out of luck. He slunk into his office and dropped himself at his desk, seeing all the past-due bills and notes he’d written for himself. He needed to pay Roman and Remus… he needed to pay Logan… and Virgil… his stomach growled unhappily. He hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s dinner. He couldn’t afford to. He had to pay his people… but he didn’t have anything left to give.
While he sat and moped, an hour went by. One a.m. bled into two… and Patton heard Logan round up the customers and usher them out into the night. Patton sighed. He glanced at the phone on his desk, fiddled with the rotary dial… and sighed again. He couldn’t avoid it any longer. He couldn’t do this on his own. He made a call.
When Patton was finished, he stepped back into the bar with that usual, tight smile. Roman and Remus were talking while leaning against the bar. Virgil wiped the counters. Logan stood to the side and watched him. Maybe he suspected Patton was hiding his struggles. Maybe he knew and just wasn’t saying anything. Patton digressed.
“Alright! Listen up, boys.” All eyes turned to him, and Patton’s smile softened. “I think we all knew that this day would come.”
Remus raised a hand. “I’m getting a raise?”
“No,” Roman snapped as he batted Remus with the bell of his trumpet. “I’m getting a raise. I’m the favorite twin.”
Patton’s palms sweated. “No one is getting a raise.” Remus opened his mouth to ‘boo,’ but Virgil threw a rag at his face to shut him up. Patton went on. “We’ve been losing customers. And we all know you can’t have a bar without customers.”
Remus nodded sagely. “Like having cocaine without wine.”
Roman looked into the distance. “Like having sex without friction.”
“Focus boys,” Patton snapped his fingers. “Please. See… after last years’… incident—“
“You mean the fire?” Remus deadpanned.
“The incident,” Patton repeated stiffly. “People have been… a little unsure about visiting us. So I’ve decided to call up an old friend.”
Roman perked up. “Patton. You have an old friend?”
“What kind of old friend?” Remus pressed. “Are we talkin’... Old Money Links Us Together old? Or… We Slept Together As A Favor old?”
Patton blinked hard and swallowed. “N… neither of those.”
Roman and Remus looked at each other. “They slept together.”
“Definitely slept together.”
Virgil looked like he was going to have a heart attack, but Patton didn’t notice. He was waving the conjectures away as he said, “Now, enough! Please! I called this friend… because we need a little name recognition.”
Logan grimaced. “Name recognition? You want the fuzz to know about us?”
“I want the butter and egg boys to come here and spend their money,” Patton stressed tiredly. “Believe me. I don’t want to be in the cooler any more than you boys. But…” he gestured to the club anxiously. “The Patron can’t keep runnin’ if we don’t have customers.”
“So this… old friend of yours,” Logan said sternly. “He can bring in clientele?”
“I think so,” Patton said, his hands shaking as he worried them together. “Even a small investment would help. If he likes the look of the place, we could spread the word. He could tell friends. Associates.”
Roman glanced at Remus. “That’s what I call my marks. Associates.”
“They’ll ass your cociates,” Remus snickered.
“Focus,” Patton said, reeling in the twins. “This friend will come tonight. He said he’d check out the place and see if it’s worth the while.”
Virgil’s hands fidgeted at his rolled-up sleeves. “And if it isn’t?”
Patton’s smile turned strained again. “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”
While Virgil looked ready to tear his hair out from worry, Logan gave Patton a hard look. “What do you need from us?”
“You watch the doors as always,” he said before he turned to the twins. “Roman, I want you to blow that trumpet until it flops. Remus, go ahead and sing like a canary. And Virgil,” he smiled at his heavy-lifter. “Help me behind the bar?”
Virgil smiled and nearly melted where he stood. “Y-Yeah. Sure thing. Anything you need, Mr. Moore.”
“Perfect! Then we’ll see how things go tonight. I have some work to do before I leave… get home safe, boys.”
Patton smiled and went back into his office, leaving his workers to wriggle out into the night. Before they went, Remus and Roman smirked at Virgil.
“Anything you need, Mr. Moore,” Remus cooed mockingly. He fumbled at Roman dramatically, a hand to his forehead as he faked a swoon. “Oh, tell me what you need, Mr. Moore.”
“Stop it,” Virgil growled as he went to wipe the counter again.
Roman dropped his voice an octave (which didn’t sound like Patton at all) and he cradled Remus in his arms as he said, “Oh, Virgil, you tall and lanky scoundrel. Invest in my business! Drink my liquor!”
“Stop,” Virgil repeated.
Remus went on. “Oh, anything for you! Oh, Mr. Moore, I’m just so parched! Dry as a bone!”
“I know how to get you soaked…”
Virgil threw the rag at them again. “Stop it! You mugs are a bunch a fuckin’ chippies!”
Roman laughed and backed away from the bar. “Alright, easy, easy… it’s just a joke. You know we’re all friends here!”
“Besides,” Remus said as he snuck a drink from behind the bar. “We’ve been called worse.”
Roman and Logan left first, arm in arm and mumbling sweet nothings to each other as they went. Remus was the next to go, flicking his hair out of his eyes and glancing at Patton’s office door before he went. The floors were swept one last time. Virgil turned off the lights of the stage, then the lounge lights… and he glanced back at Patton’s office. A small, faint lamplight glowed under the door. Surely, he was busy. He didn’t need to be bothered. And yet, Virgil took a bottle rum from the bar and went to that office door and knocked.
There was a pause, then a soft, frightened, “Yes?”
“It’s… just me. Virgil.”
Another pause. “Oh.” He sounded… relieved? “Come in.”
Virgil opened the door and stepped inside, seeing Patton sweeping an array of papers into a stack. There were a lot of “Due” on those… what was the red for? Virgil watched him shuffle the papers neatly… and deposit them into one of the large drawers of the desk. Then he folded his hands primly on the desktop. He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. It hardly ever did.
“What can I do for you?”
Virgil held up the bottle. “Up for a drink?”
Again, Patton seemed relieved when he reached into a different drawer and pulled out two tumblers. “Pull up a chair.”
They sat, Virgil poured, and Patton drank like he was going off to war. He couldn’t though. He was flat-footed. Still, he looked like he'd seen the trenches with those tired, blue eyes. And Virgil pitied him. They drank quietly for a while, stewing in their own thoughts, but when Patton looked up and smiled, he came alive.
He was off and telling stories of his gay days in school, all the good times and sorry troubles he endured. He spoke of his father (the skeeze of a man) and vowed that he would be a better man, just to make up for his father’s presence. He complimented Virgil’s height and his strength and wished he could have some of both. Virgil offered it.
“Bein’ this tall only gives you trouble,” Virgil sighed where he was half-laid over Patton’s desk. Patton giggled and poured another drink. He spilled a little, licking the excess from his fingers before he drank. Virgil watched with an endeared smile. “You’d jus’... jus’ whack your head.”
Patton looked at him. “I’d what?”
“Whack your head.”
Virgil sniffled and sat up, trying to focus his thoughts. “Door frame, prolly. Hit my head on those more than once…” he looked at Patton and smiled hopelessly. “Don’t hit your head on one a those. You’re good an’ small.”
Patton grimaced and refilled Virgil’s glass. “Nothing good about being small, Virgil.” He paused, hiccupped, and laughed at that sound before he sat back. Then he sighed. “If I were big and tall, I’d… I’d…”
“Whack your head!” Virgil finished as he spread his hands in a gesture of showing. “Tha’s my point! You need to stay small and dandy, all spiffy and nice.” He nodded authoritatively as he sipped at his drink. He puckered his lips at Patton’s smile. “Keeps you safe.”
Patton’s smile softened and it made the corners of his eyes crinkle. “You think I’m spiffy?”
Maybe it was the liquor, but Virgil felt bold. “I think you’re the sheikest damn manager I ever had.”
Patton laughed at that. “Never been called sheik! That’s the twin’s business. All that…” he waved his fingers. “Sex appeal.”
Virgil twitched; Patton was plenty tempting in his eyes. He had those blue eyes, a smile that looked a little crooked when he laughed, and when Patton reached out to touch him it was almost electric. He enjoyed Patton’s company, but he would even enjoy Patton’s company even more. Virgil swallowed thickly. “You’ve got sex appeal.”
Patton snorted into his cup. “You’re drunk.” They drank quietly for a little while. Then Patton lowered his cup and sighed. “Nights like these make me wonder… if this is as good as it gets.”
Virgil glanced at the rum. “It’s a little watery, I guess.”
“Not the drink, sugar.” Virgil loved it when Patton was a little drunk. Just drunk enough to call him ‘sugar.’ Just drunk enough to smile. But one sip too many, and Patton was almost always sad. Patton leaned his head back against his chair. “Life I suppose. Everything. All of it.”
“Maybe it is,” Virgil said, dark and tired. Patton looked at him, and Virgil shrugged. “Maybe we’re all just a lost cause. There isn’t a reason for any of it and we’re all here wasting time just to fill the spaces between the pain.” Virgil twisted his glass. “But the rum is a little watery.”
Patton glanced at the bottle and sighed. “It is, isn’t it? I think I’ve been chiseled.”
Virgil winced. “Bad supplier?”
“Bad supplier. Bad intel. Bad money. Bad news, bad deal…” Patton reached for the bottle. He missed a few times and Virgil had to guide him to the neck of the bottle. Together, they poured him a glass. He stared at the amber liquid. “I like this place, Virgil. I don’t want it to go under.”
Virgil made an uneasy face. “It… it won’t though. That’s why you’re calling that friend of yours.”
“What?” Patton asked, then blinked, and then he nodded belatedly. “Oh. Right. Right, Dee…”
“Mr. Dee,” Patton said as he sat back and nursed his drink. He smacked his lips and sighed. “Fulla hot air…”
Virgil twisted the bottle quietly. “So. Mr. Dee is that pal of yours?” Patton hummed into his cup while he drank. Virgil nodded thoughtfully. “You uh… you two… involved? The way that… you know. Roman and Logan are—”
Patton huffed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh. Okay, no dice, that’s fine—”
“Alright!” Patton sat forward and leaned his palms on the desk “I’ll tell you. But you have ta promise… you won’t tell Virgil.”
Virgil blinked. He would never tell Virgil. He would never betray Patton’s trust. Who was Virgil? Wait. His name was Virgil. A coincidence? Or was he just that drunk?
Virgil nodded eagerly. “It’s between us. No worries.”
Patton nodded, narrowing his eyes and looking around the office suspiciously before he whispered. “I let Dee bend me over a desk when we were in school.”
All the blood in Virgil’s brain immediately traveled south. Covertly, he crossed his legs and slouched where he sat. “So you twos… are involved.”
“Mmm… nah,” Patton sat back and waved a hand. “That was one time. Just to see what it was like. We’re just friends.”
Virgil felt hot under the collar. “Oh.”
Patton nodded and stared at the wall. “Be nicer if Virgil took me against the bar.” Virgil was very jealous of Virgil. “Bet he’d hold me good.” Virgil bet he would. “If I had my way…”
Virgil wanted Patton to have his way. He felt dizzy. Dizzy and tired and so damn aroused. He wanted Patton against the bar. Patton in one of the circular lounge booths. Patton on the lumpy sofa in his office. He wanted to make him really smile. He’d make all those worry lines on his face just disappear. He’d kiss every inch of skin he could find. He’d grab this, touch here, press that… Virgil blinked his eyes open.
When had he put his head down?
He lifted his head and the room spun a bit. The lamp was too bright. Patton was slumped in his chair, fast asleep. Virgil sighed; another night of drinking with Patton. Someday, it would get old. It hadn’t yet. It was still novel to Virgil.
Each time they drank together, Patton admitted he wanted Virgil. Every time they drank together, Virgil lost his nerve and forgot to confess. So there they were at eight in the morning, drunk and sleepy. Virgil sighed and dropped his head back onto the desk. The club wouldn’t open until much later. He had time. With a breathy sigh, Virgil went back to sleep.
Cracking his eyes open, Patton shifted in his chair and smiled at Virgil. Then the smile turned anxious; he didn’t have money to pay Virgil’s wages. He didn’t have the money to pay any of their wages. Of course, he’d do anything for Virgil. Whatever it took to keep him near… but sexual favors didn’t pay bills. And it wouldn’t be right to offer if Virgil didn’t feel the same. So he didn’t offer them, even if he wanted to. No, he had to find another way.
He poured himself another drink, smiled that tight smile, and knocked it back.
Roman licked his lips and buzzed the mouthpiece of his trumpet tiredly. Another slow night… Remus sang slow and smooth on the stage, that irritating kind of relaxation bleeding through him that only a good helping of liquor could achieve. Roman wanted to smoke… he really wanted a quick round with Logan backstage. But the show came first. If he was lucky, he’d remain upright for the entirety of the show. He heard the swell of the song and leaned back against the jut of the stage, blowing out long, lazy notes that matched Remus’s sleepy vocals. The patrons hardly paid attention to them.
Then the doors opened.
Roman glanced up under the brim of his hat that was slowly sliding down on his head. He saw Patton indicating to the interior of The Patron. A man in a crisp, black suit stood with him. His hat was tilted coyly. He had an air of a rich man in repose as he leaned back and gave the club a scrutinizing look. When he turned his head, Roman saw a scar, dark in the low light of the club, marring the left side of his face. Roman watched those dark eyes sweep over the half-dozen louts who were spread across the tables. Then his eyes hit the stage. And they locked on Remus.
Roman quirked an eyebrow and blew his trumpet. The man was frozen in place. He didn’t seem to notice that Patton was talking to him. Oh? Remus hit a high note, breathless and excited by his own song, and the man’s lips quirked with a smile. Roman smiled. Oh.
With a twist, he lounged back against the surface of the stage. Remus continued to sing, slow and happy and swinging as he rode the high of wine and cocaine. Patton sat his old friend down in a booth toward the back, a fond flutter of hands before he went to the bar. Virgil was waiting for him, ready to give him a drink for the ‘old friend.’
Once the song ended, Roman was able to take the mouthpiece from his lips, wiping a hand over his numb lips. He kept a careful eye on this guest, licking his lips slow and thoughtfully as he reached over and tugged on the end of Remus’s coat. Remus leaned close, turning into him a bit as he dipped into Roman’s pocket for a cigarette. Roman let him.
“Check out the highbinder in the back,” he murmured with a smile. Remus’s eyes locked on the man and his mustache curled around his smile. This was going to be a hot mess, and Roman already knew it. He watched Remus get a light, puffing a little and adding to the smoke that hung in the air above the tables. There was a pause, one where Remus ran the tip of his tongue over his top lip. Roman rolled his eyes. “Remus…”
“Fat pockets,” Remus muttered before he took a long drag from the cigarette and sighed through a mouthful of smoke. They sized up the man like they were sizing-up a Mark. Remus made an appreciative hum. “Deep pockets.”
Roman spotted Logan by the entrance looking delectable. With a smile, he fiddled with the valves on his trumpet and rocked on his heels. His eyes slid back over to the man. “Patton has good taste.”
Remus grinned and licked his lips again. “Damn good taste.”
With a chuckle, Roman kicked Remus’s leg. The resulting playful shoves gave Patton plenty of time to approach and tap his fingers against the wood floor of the stage. The twins shuffled close with two interested smiles.
“Alright Patton, give us the gossip…” Roman said, a titillated grin on his face. “How fast was he? Did he give you a good thrashing or was it a two-minute job?”
Patton had the decency to stand back and look a little affronted before he giggled nervously and said, “You— he— if you’re keen on stayin’ on this stage, you wouldn’t ask me things like that.”
Remus looked at Roman. “I’d say a good thrashing.”
Roman hummed interestedly. “I was going to say two-minute job. Patton looks disappointed.” With a big, smug smile, Roman waggled his eyebrows at Patton. “Were you?”
Patton blinked hard. “Was I what?”
“Disappointed,” Remus pressed as he looked over at the guest with hungry eyes. “I need details, darling. All the intimate, juicy details.”
“Enough,” Patton snapped as he spread his hands wide. “Listen. Listen… Dee was just a friend, and he’s always been just a friend. Now… he’s here to look at the club. To see if he wants to invest in The Patron.”
“Does he drink scotch?” Remus asked as he passed Patton his cig. Patton sipped at it, then crushed it at the foot of the stage. Remus rocked on his heels, his eyes stuck on the visitor. Dee, apparently. Remus smiled. “He looks like he drinks scotch.”
Patton bounced a little, clearly a little frazzled. “Boys? We need to put on a nice show. Something to show him what we have.”
“I want to show him what I have,” Remus said with a wry grin.
Patton let out a jittery sigh and tapped the stage with shaky hands, repeating, “Boys…”
“You say, ‘boys’ like both of us are an issue,” Roman said exasperatedly. Then, he gestured to the empty pit where the band used to sit. “Besides… how much of a show can we put on? The only band you have is me. Where did Luce go? And Charlie and Buck?”
Patton smiled his anxious, people-pleasing smile. “Tight budget.”
Roman went on, “And Frank, and Louie, and John…”
“Don’t forget the backup girls,” Remus chimed in unhelpfully.
“Oh, god, yeah… so that’s Vicky and Scarlet and Anna Marie—”
“Tight! Tight budget!” Patton said with that thin-lipped smile. He clapped his hands, and a drunk at a nearby table snorted himself awake. Patton ignored it. “Alright… give ‘em a good razzle dazzle, and… who knows? Maybe he’ll help us get the band back together.”
Roman grinned. That sounded like nice. Having a band again, maybe some nice new curtains, plenty of other people to play instruments so Roman could go do whatever he wanted backstage… Roman reached out and snagged Remus’s sleeve, pulling him close so he could whisper in his ear.
“You put on the best damn show…”
Remus snorted and curled the end of his mustache. “Blow that horn and we’ll see.”
“That’s the spirit sorta!” With a grin, Patton shuffled back to the bar. “Knock ‘em dead, boys!”
Roman fiddled with the valves of his trumpet, watching Dee from across the bar. They had an opportunity. A chance to bring the bar back into the forefront of the scene. Sure, Lollie’s place had stolen a lot of attention… but with a good enough show, Dee’s investment could bring some of their old clients back. Remus told him to play something low and slow and Roman would happily oblige… this man. This Mr. Dee. He was obviously watching Remus. He had eyes for no one but him. It would be interesting to see how this panned out.
He started to play, watching the way Remus swayed and smiled with that dramatic, saucy face of his. The notes were relaxed and easy, and he wasn’t strained where he leaned his shoulders against the side of the stage. From a distance, he could see the way Dee watched Remus. It was intriguing, seeing someone look at Remus like that. It wasn’t unusual for people to look at him or Remus like that, all fire and desire. They were beautiful, and they knew it, and in the dark light of a smoky speakeasy, no one minded who looked at who.
At Dee’s table, Patton slid into the seat next to him and smiled. He put a glass on the table, sliding it close so Dee could snake out a hand to take the cup. His eyes were locked on the stage, and when Remus swayed and snapped with the melody from the trumpet, Dee felt a smile bloom on his face. Patton had called him for a favor. It was almost laughable; a favor… between friends, it was just a visit to his floundering bar. Now… now… with this singer? Up on that stage looking like a piece of art? Maybe this ‘favor’ wasn’t going to be so bad. This was going to be interesting.
Patton watched him watch the stage; it was a domino effect of observation as the singer on the stage brandished the standing mic with a flourish. Dee curled his fingers around his class of scotch, watching the way the singer nodded to his accompanist; just one trumpet player. Dee quirked an eyebrow. The man started to sing, and Dee felt his smile widen. The man was beautiful… he had a face like a work of art and the voice of an angel that hadn’t worn a halo a day in its life. Dee’s fingers tapped the table as he listened.
“Don’t need a drink! No drink,” The singer crooned sadly, “As long as you’re on my glass, darlin’. Long as you’re on my glass...”
Dee took a drink and licked his lips. The singer watched him. He tipped his head, a coy nod that encouraged the crooner. Next to him, Patton shifted and fidgeted with his hands. There was no use in ignoring him; Patton had always been one of the fidgety ones. Once upon a time, it had been endearing. Now, Dee had to wonder if he was sick. He was too old to be hemming and hawing. Dee drank, and Patton continued to fidget. The trumpet whined, and the singer went on.
“Pour champagne with the ‘cantor! We’ll glide on the glitz and glamor...”
The sultry looks of the singer were very much appreciated. He could feet them working down his body, getting to the table, and working back up just to get another look with a hungry, hungry shine. Dee set his glass down and sighed.
“Spill it, Patton.” Patton jumped in his seat and looked at him helplessly, and Dee spun his glass tirelessly. “You didn’t invite me here for a drink and a show.”
“Nothin’ wrong with a good drink and a good show,” Patton said eagerly. Eager-to-please, that was Patton Moore. It was something that Dee loved about him. It was also something Dee hated about him. So he looked at Patton, his lips pursed and disapproving. Patton shrank a little, his thin shoulders pulling in as he looked at the tabletop and fidgeted. “It’s been so long, Dee. you can’t just… look at me like that.”
Dee rolled his eyes and shook his head. “You’re not hard-up for me, Patton. Don’t go ‘round makin’ it out like I’m here on personal business.”
Patton glanced at him. “Aren’t we friends?” Dee looked at him. He didn’t answer. He looked back to the singer, meeting those piercing eyes with an approving smile.
“Tilt me back! Let’s let the rain fall. Come ‘ere and we’ll make it good agains’ the wall...”
“Nice singer you have there.”
Patton blinked; his fake fawning paused for a moment as he glanced at the stage. He broke into an easy smile. “Quiet the talent, ain’t he? He was the talk of the town before we had to go underground.”
Dee hummed and took a drink. The place was definitely rundown. From what his sources said, The Patron had been gutted by fire less than a year ago. It was impressive that Patton had managed to get things back up and running. But… how well was ‘up and running’ working for him? The place still looked depressingly empty. The pit for the band was empty. That trumpet player was working for it, though; he supported the singer with everything he had. Dee pursed his lips. He watched the singer and the singer watched right back. They met eyes and held on, riding those lyrics like they would keep them alive.
“Set me back, I’ll set you up. Don’t need a drink! No drink… not if you’re on my glass.”
Dee smirked. “What’s his name?”
Patton followed his gaze and fidgeted with that anxious smile he liked to wear. “Which one?”
Which one? Which one? There was only one singer. Was he drunk? Dee thumbed the cool glass of his tumbler. “The singer. Bronze skin. Curly hair. Looks like a damn god.”
He could feel Patton’s eyes on his face. “They’re… both bronze, Dee. They’re twins. Their parents were from… Persia? I think?”
Dee frowned, glanced at the trumpeter, and his eyebrows made a run for his hairline. “Well, I’ll be damned. There’s two of him.”
“Two of them,” Patton agreed, sounding very, very tired. “Very similar. But different.”
“Like you and your sister.” At that, Patton twitched and fidgeted again. “Does he have a name?”
Patton snapped back to attention. “Remus. The one singing is… Remus. Roman is his brother.” There was a beat of quiet, one that was filled solely my Remus’s singing.
“Oh! Doesn’t matter what the brass say, we’re gonna get our way. Fill up my glass, let the rain pass…”
Remus was looking at him. Singing to him. Dee liked it. He also felt Patton glancing at him, nervous and anticipating something. Dee sighed and looked around. “What do you want, Patton? Money?”
“No!” Patton was quick to say. Too quick. So it was money. Dee glanced at him, and Patton’s face burned in the low light of the bar. “No, I just… see, we’ve run into a little… trouble.”
“So you need money.”
Patton shifted in his seat. “Not quite.”
“Then what do you want?”
More fidgeting. Marvelous. If this was anyone else, Dee would’ve had a gun to their head in two minutes, ready and willing to itch that trigger-finger if they didn’t answer him. But this was Patton. He knew Patton. And Patton wouldn’t call him here for nothing. So he was wary, sipping quietly at his scotch as Patton worked up the courage to ask for money.
“After the fire, things have been a bit rocky. And I’m not talkin’ about the drinks.”
Dee gave him an unimpressed look. “Hilarious.”
Patton smiled, and it looked more amused than uneasy. “See, I… I’m havin’ trouble getting people through the doors.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“You said you can’t get people into the bar.” He gestured to the room. “It’s big. It’s spacious. It also looks drab. You couldn’t get a good fat-cat in here if you had a half-naked chippy outside the door.”
Patton winced and looked around at the brick walls and thin curtains. “You think it’s that bad?”
Dee shrugged. “I think your last bar looked better, Dollface. Before the prohibition. Before you went underground. Only went once, but the liquor hit harder.” He sipped his scotch and set it down. “Down here, your drinks aren’t even as stiff as the Hudson.”
Patton fidgeted and reached out a single hand, gripping Dee’s wrist. Their eyes met, and Patton looked at him with that sad, tight smile. “Dee… I need help.”
“You need money.”
“Don’t deny it. I hate it when men flap their gums and it’s all just hot air.” He took his arm away, and Patton withdrew his hands almost shamefully. Dee leaned forward and growled, “Don’t you dare clam up on me now. I’m not into playing private Dick while you chew your words; so spill it, Patty. What am I doing here?”
“Don’t get so sore, Dee.”
“I ain’t sore.” Patton stared at him, clearly unconvinced, and Dee blinked slowly, calm and distant as he said, “C’mon, Patty. I said I’d stay for a show. Your singer’s almost done.”
“I need help,” Patton said again. Dee opened his mouth and Patton cut him off with, “It wouldn’t be money… it would be an investment.”
Dee raised an eyebrow. An investment? That was intriguing. He sat back in his chair and made bedroom eyes at Remus. He was met with a pivot of his hips and a desperate grasp at the microphone stand. Dee smiled a bit before he glanced at Patton. “How much?”
“Couple hundred?” Patton said with a shaky smile. “A grand, tops. Just to get the place back on its feet.”
Dee hummed and turned back to Remus. “And what am I getting out of this?”
“I could offer…” Patton took a moment to parse out the math. “Ten percent?”
“Of earnings?” Dee asked, his fingers drumming on the tired tablecloth. His drink was long past empty. Patton only had one bartender. No busboys or waitresses. He was in bad shape. Dee pursed his lips and tapped the table some more. “I think this place will need more than a grand, Patton.”
Patton swallowed thickly, his eyes darting around the room before he adjusted his round glasses. “You think so?”
“I know so,” Dee lifted his empty glass, displaying it for the bartender, and then set it down again. He watched the man dig around behind the bar for a while… then he turned his attention to Remus.
“With you!” He belted with abandon, “In my glass!”
The trumpet wailed, Remus’s vibrato outshone it, and the whole thing seemed startlingly out of place in the rundown bar. Too big and important for such a small stage. But it was loud and proud… and only four other people were awake to witness it. Dee clapped anyway, watching with interest as Remus tilted forward… kicked out a leg… and stepped onto the nearest table. Then the next. And then the next.
He was walking across the empty tables toward Dee. Patton stood, told him to get down, that he’d hurt himself… but Remus grinned madly and walked until he made it to Dee. Dee took his glass out of the way, and Remus stood over him, all bronze-skin and shining, green eyes. He looked mad. He looked wild. Dee had always liked the wild ones.
When Remus went to climb down, he stumbled. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he’d been hitting the powder. Dee wasn’t rude enough to ask. Instead, he offered a hand for support… and Remus fell into his lap. He seemed comfortable there, draping himself over Dee’s thighs and throwing an arm around his shoulders.
“Evening, handsome,” he smelled like cigarettes and cheap bourbon. Dee had never liked bourbon. Now, it was his favorite drink.
“Evening, songbird.” He rested his glass on Remus’s leg, holding him in place. “You put on quite the show.”
“Just for you,” Remus grinned hazily. He glanced at Patton over his shoulder and winked. “He’s a looker. I can see why you two have a history.”
Patton flushed and waved his hands with a nervous laugh. “Re— ha. Remus. That’s—”
“Tell me you’ll stick around, stud.” Remus cooed as he tilted Dee’s hat to expose the mark on his face. Dee braced himself for the staring. For the sad ‘oh, that looks painful!’ comments. But Remus only smiled and kissed his cheek, whispering against the skin, “I got other shows I can put on, just for you…”
Dee fought a smile. “Tempting.” He lifted his empty glass. The bartender had been interrupted by another guest. So he held out the glass to Remus. “Get me another?”
Remus took the glass and stood up on wobbly legs. Then he took Dee’s hat and put it on his head. Dee didn’t stop him. He sniffed the tumbler and grinned. “Scotch. I knew you’d drink scotch. Big Daddy’s with the big wallets always like their scotch.”
When Remus turned, Dee said, “Walk away real slow. I like the cut of that suit.” Remus only laughed. Patton took his seat once more, and his eyes lingered on Dee’s profile. Dee sighed. “Out with it.”
“If you’re doing this just for Remus, then—”
“For Remus.” Dee repeated. He looked at Patton. “For Remus? Like he’s some bargaining chip? Patton. I’m a holder of one of the most dangerous mobs in Chicago I am nefarious. I am rich. But I’m not about to buy my way into a man’s pants.”
With a quirk of an eyebrow, Patton twiddled his thumbs. “None of that is news to me. You just chinning to make me nervous?”
Dee smiled. “Am I?”
“Dee, this is serious.”
“Oh, yeah. Deadly serious, I’m sure.”
Patton fidgeted a bit more. “I can’t afford to keep the doors open. I’m in debt with so many banks, I’m surprised a button man hasn’t come to put me out.” Dee watched him struggle with himself, a quiver working through delicate fingers as he thought for a moment. “I’m strugglin’ to pay for things the way they are… I’m having to go to cheaper runners for the liquor and I haven’t been able to pay full wages since—” Patton clammed up, and Dee made a face. What was wrong with him?
“Here ya go, handsome.” Remus appeared through the smoke in the air and presented Dee with his refreshed glass of scotch. Patton stared at the table. Dee narrowed his eyes. So that was it. When Dee sat back, Remus replaced Dee’s hat on his head and draped himself across Dee’s thighs again, like he was meant to sit down right there. It was nice. He was heavy on Dee’s lap but not in an unpleasant way. Dee took his scotch and placed it on Remus’s knee as he spoke.
“So,” he said. Patton stared at the table, his hands fluttering a bit. He glanced at Dee intermittently, like he was scared to look at him. Dee thumbed his glass in his right hand and the crease of Remus’s suitcoat with his left. “So.”
Patton wetted his lips. “Don’t make me say it, Dee.”
“Say what, Patton?”
There was a long moment when Patton narrowed his eyes and smiled that worried smile. “I don’t want to discuss this in front of my boys.”
Remus suddenly looked discomforted, his eyes flickering from Dee to Patton and back. “What… did I step into?”
“Nothin’,” Dee said before Patton could get a breath. He rocked Remus in his lap just a bit, shifting his legs until he could cross his ankles comfortably. “Patton and I were just discussing business.”
Remus pursed his lips and curled the end of his mustache. “Business-schmisness.” He looked at Dee. “Tell me that’s a gun in your pocket.”
Oh, a funny one. Dee also liked the funny ones. He patted Remus’s back indulgently. “You only wish it was.”
For a long moment, the only sound in the bar was Roman’s half-hearted trumpet playing from the stage. He sat on the lip of the stage, tilting from side to side as another man approached the stage. He was the man at the door. Dark, dark skin and sharp-angled glasses. He stood as the edge of the stage, a hand braced next to Roman as he listened to him play. Dee saw the coy tilt of the doorman’s head. He saw the way Roman swayed near him. Dee raised an eyebrow. Interesting.
“You have quite the ragtag group here, Patton,” Dee said softly. Patton went a little rigid where he sat, and Remus gave Dee a hard look. Dee was careful as he continued, “Two Persians… a black doorman… a Chinese behind the bar…”
Patton fidgeted with his hands. “Something wrong with that?”
“Not at all. Just thinkin’ that I remember a few faces from the first time I came to your bar.” Dee felt Remus relax against him and he squeezed Remus’s waist. “All ‘cept you, Dollface. I’d remember a face like yours.” Remus giggled and fiddled with the buttons on Dee’s shirt. Dee returned his eyes to Patton. “So. You keep the good ones close and let go of the unimportant ones.”
Patton flinched. “Dee—”
“The unimportant ones,” Remus echoed incredulously, a comically offended look on his face. “You think my girls… are unimportant?”
Dee raised an eyebrow; his girls? Ah. The backup singers on the stage. Remus certainly seemed attached to them. And Patton seemed eager to soothe him… ever the constant people-pleaser. The last remaining workers in his bar were important to him… like family. Of course they were. Patton was always a soft heart. Now, with the way he squirmed and made a face, it was like Dee put a burr on his seat. He blinked slowly, watching Patton flutter his hands.
“The girls are not unimportant, Remus. You know I wouldn’t think that. If I could’ve afforded to keep them, I would have.” He looked at Dee with sharp eyes that Dee remembered too well. “Dee.”
Dee raised his eyebrows and pulled a twitchy smile. “What?”
Patton smiled and his eyes crinkled for good measure. “Can we take this to my office?”
Ah, so playtime was over. Patton’s desperation was rearing its head. It was clear what he needed… the only other reason Dee would have to play dumb would be for Remus’s benefit. Either the lounge singer didn’t know about Patton’s issue… or he was a splendid actor. Dee bet on the former. He gave Remus’s back a sorry pat.
“Sorry, toots. It’s just business.”
Remus grimaced and slid out of Dee’s lap with a grumbling, “Gonna get somethin’ to smoke,” on his way. With that, Patton stood up and indicated for Dee to go first. He was led to an office past the bar — the bartender gave him quite a sharp look as he passed — and Patton let him into the small office. It was cozy. Small by Dee’s standards… but warm. It was very Patton. Now, Dee wasn’t sure if he loved or hated it. That was a difficult question. Because he loved and hated Patton. Patton shut the door and snapped him out of his thoughts.
He didn’t turn to look at Patton. No, not yet. He had to build up a little pressure. He had to make Patton nervous. That didn’t take much. Patton wore his heart on his sleeve, and it was easy to squeeze a heart when it was so readily available for abuse. Dee admired the dark, brick walls and red undertones of the room. The desk was tired. Rings of watermarks from long-gone glasses of liquor were on the wood. Dee pursed his lips.
It was too clean. Patton was a packrat. Even in school, he couldn’t keep his things straight. There were normally papers everywhere. He was hiding them. Ah. Dee clicked his tongue and shook his head as he leaned a hand on the desk. Patton was hiding it… but he couldn’t hide it from Dee.
“They don’t know you’re destitute.”
Patton didn’t even try to deny it. “I just… I just need help. Gettin’ back on my feet.”
“So you came to me,” Dee said with a slow turn on his heel. He saw Patton by the door, worrying his hands together. Dee indicated to himself. “You came to me.” He held out his hands, palms open and confused. “Why not go to your sister?”
Patton twitched. “We… we aren’t talking.”
Dee rolled his eyes. That wasn’t the right button to push. Patton’s eyes were shut to that. The scar was a little too deep… he needed something a little fresher if he wanted to keep up pressure. “You know what I think?”
Patton hesitated. “No. What?”
“I think you’re not cut out for this.”
A slow, slow blink. Then Patton smiled that tired, tired smile and let out a breathless, passive-aggressive, “What?”
Dee gestured to the desk, then the office itself, and the bar beyond the closed door. “This? The speakeasy? Patton. You’re good with people… but you’re not fit to run a drum.”
“I had a legitimate business before the prohibition swung around—”
“And you had a good time of it,” Dee said with a tender smile. He stepped forward, put his hands on Patton’s shoulders, and slid his hands down his arms until he could give Patton’s biceps a painful squeeze. Patton flinched. Of course he flinched. He had no poker-face. He smiled, and Patton couldn’t look him in the eye. “But maybe it’s time you gave up this whole… speakeasy business. You ain’t a lawbreaker, Patty-cake. And you ain’t a liar. That’s my job.”
Patton grabbed at him, gripping his waist and pulling them together. “Dee. Dee, I need…” His eyes looked desperate. He looked scared. “I just need help. Whatever it takes. Whatever you want. I… I’d—” Dee stepped back and Patton swallowed the rest of his words.
This was interesting. Not a good kind of interesting… but interesting. Dee smoothed a hand over his face, looking at the walls as he thought. Patton stared. He still wanted this. Which made no sense… he was dead in the water. An “investment” would be prolonging the inevitable at this point.
“Why’d you do this, huh?” Dee waved to the door. To the bar. Patton chewed his lower lip and didn’t look at him. Dee circled him like a vulture circling prey. “Why open a drum? You that hungry for a profit? You get in over your head?” He stepped close behind Patton and spoke in his ear. “You think I would come and bail you out if you’d get down on your knees for it? You think that appeals to me?”
“Stop it.” Patton shrugged him off. Good. He still had those pure-hearted intentions of his. Morals or some such nonsense. When he spoke, it was low and even. “This isn’t about me. They wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“The boys!” Patton said harshly. He turned to look at Dee with those emotional eyes. Dee gave him an unimpressed look, and Patton waved his hands as he said, “They were shutting down my bar! Do you think I was going to just… let them all go?”
“You let the others go,” Dee said with a shrug. “What makes these ones special?”
“Because… because…” Patton stopped, collected himself, and tried again. He went to the door and pulled at the aluminum blinds that covered window in the door. “Look at them,” he said. When Dee didn’t move, Patton gestured to the window and said, “Look at them!”
After rolling his eyes, Dee stepped forward and peered out the window. He saw the twins with their bronze skin and cocky smiles. He saw the black complexion of the doorman, a vision of cool detachment. He saw the barkeeper, olive-skinned and sharp-angled. His jaw worked a bit, and Patton gave him a long moment to think.
“Look at them and tell me they’d last ten minutes in Chicago.”
Dee looked. Then he turned to Patton. “They’d last. They wouldn’t get good work… but they’d last.”
Patton shook his head and sighed. “That… that’s the difference between you an’ me, Dee.”
Dee laughed and put his hands in his pockets. “How's that?”
“I want to help,” Patton said with that sickly-sweet genuine voice. “I want to offer them a chance at somethin’ better than… than performing on the corners for tips or shining shoes for fat cats uptown.”
“Yeah. That’s the difference between you an’ me.” Dee went to the small sofa at the side of the room and sat down. “You’re too soft. Always thinkin’ you can help when most of the time, you’re givin’ them false hope.”
“I can help!” Patton said, “Anybody should be able to live a good life! No matter what color they are!”
Dee stared at him. “Yeah?”
“And you’re gonna offer them somethin’ better?”
Patton looked so sure of himself. “Yeah.”
“I’m not sayin’ you’re wrong.” Dee sat forward and leaned his elbows on his knees. “But I am saying that you’re just draggin’ them down with you.” Patton opened his mouth to disagree and Dee cut him off. “You haven’t been able to pay them their full wages since… when, Patton?” Patton didn’t answer. He’d gone very, very quiet and very, very pale. He swallowed thickly and Dee saw the bob of his Adam’s apple. Dee pressed the issue. “Since when Patton?”
“I…” he was floundering. He wasn’t cut out for this. The pressure of underground business, the dangers of going under while in this line of work. Patton looked a little sick. “I… I just want…” Dee’s ears perked up at that. He knew that break in Patton’s voice. He was being honest. It hurt a little to hear the pain in it… but it was honest. Patton looked at him with sad, blue eyes. “I just wish things were easy again.”
“We all want that.”
“I wish… I wish I wasn’t losing the bar. I wish it was legal. I wish…”
“If wishes were horses, babycakes.”
Patton looked down at his hands… then back up. “I don’t have anything left.”
Dee cocked his head to the side. “You’re in the hole. And you want me to help you out of it.” Patton chewed his lip and nodded. Dee knew it wasn’t over there. “You want me to help the bar… so you can pay your people.”
“I want it to go back.”
Dee shook his head. “Doesn’t work like that, sweetheart. You know it don’t. The Patron is marked as a ‘bad stop’ for anyone lookin’ for a drink. Gonna take a lot more than a grand to fix that.”
After a deep, shaking breath, Patton went to his desk and opened the bottom right-hand drawer. He pulled out a crystal decanter and two classes. He poured himself a class and sat down with tired eyes. He raised the cup to his lips, paused, and lowered it. More fidgeting. He took off his glasses… set those aside… and closed his eyes.
“So you’re saying it can’t be done,” Patton said after a minute. Dee raised his eyebrows and Patton knocked back his drink. He poured another. “I’m…” he laughed a little. “I’m chasin’ my tail, aren’t I?”
Dee smiled. “You’ve got a nice tail, Patton. Can’t be that bad of a view.”
Patton giggled, but it quickly melted into something more hysterical and breathless as he started to cry. “I can’t… I can’t even pay my debts, Dee… how can I—how can I pay them when I....?”
Dee let his brain go through the pros and cons. At best, Dee could use his connections to snuff out weak competition in the area and give The Patron a makeover. But that meant a lot of sunk-costs and money… and if a bigger player stepped into the ring, he wasn’t about to show his hand to a competitor. He was a mob-boss, not a bar-owner. He would put a little money in and see what happened… but that wasn’t a guarantee that it would work. Sure, there was more he could do… but what if he didn’t want to? This was not his problem. Patton got himself into his mess. He made his bed… it was time to lie in it. He looked at Patton and saw his blubbery face and red eyes. He took another drink, and Dee sighed.
Without help, Patton would lose The Patron, his workers would be out of a job, and everyone would part ways looking for anything else to do for work. Patton would be fine. He could crawl back to his sister for help. The bartender and doorman, though… they were a different story. They could get labor jobs. But they were clearly more skilled than that. The twins… both were talented, that was for damn sure. But what crowd of whites was going to look at these beautiful bronze boys and see artists? Only the good ones. And Chicago wasn’t exactly filled with “good people.”
“I want twenty percent,” Dee said firmly. Patton lifted his head and gave a feeble sniff.
“Of profits,” Dee reiterated. He waved at the desk vaguely. “We’ll have to have it written up and all that… but twenty percent. I have some conditions.”
“I want all your current personnel to remain employed here. No one is getting canned.”
Patton blinked and put his glasses back on with a confused flutter of his eyelashes. “Dee… Dee, if you’re just doing this for Remus—”
“Who said I was?”
Patton went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “If you’re just doing this for Remus… it doesn’t feel right. If you can find him a better place to sing? If you could… could find him another place to perform? Then show him. Doing this, bailing out the bar just to get close to him isn’t—”
“Shut up, Patton. That’s not what I’m doing.” Patton closed his mouth and the train of thought was abandoned. Dee dug in his pockets for his lighter and cigarettes for a moment. “You know what? City’s gone to shit. Prohibition is messing with my side of things. Everyone’s actin’ shifty like there’s a bull or a copper behind every corner.”
Patton sniffled and nodded slowly. He flicked open his lighter and held it out for Dee. When Dee leaned in to catch the flame and breathe deep, Patton muttered, “I’m not sure what that has to do with Remus or The Patron.”
Dee puffed out some smoke and sat back a bit. After a few deep breaths of smoke, he blew it out and clouded the office a bit before he said, “World needs a good speakeasy. One where you can drink and forget the multi-tiered mess the fuzz don’t know jack-shit about.”
Patton fiddled with his decanter for a moment… and then poured himself another drink. “So you want twenty percent… next you’ll be asking for pennies on the dollar.”
“To get rid of your debt? That may be it, Patton.” Dee sipped at his cigarette, blew smoke in Patton’s direction, and was rewarded with a disbelieving eyebrow raise. Dee smiled darkly. “You want to keep your place?”
“It’s a good place,” Patton said softly. “I don’t want to lose it.”
“You don’t want to lose your people.”
Patton smiled his soft little smile. “I don’t. The twins are practically family… Logan the most trustworthy doorman I’ve ever had, and Virgil—”
Patton flushed a little and sunk in his seat a bit. “Yeah. Virgil.”
That was all he said. With a thoughtful hum, Dee got up from the sofa and took Patton’s half-empty glass from his hands. He drained the last of the sweet rum and handed it back. It was watery. Patton really was in a bad way. He couldn’t afford the good stuff. A bar with flat drinks was a no-go. Dee sighed.
Patton puckered his lips and poured himself a fresh glass. “Twenty percent when you said I wasn’t good in this business—”
“You’re not,” Dee said firmly. “You’re too good to be a small-time hood, Patton. You’re not built for deception.”
“How is someone built for deception?”
Dee looked at Patton. “Less like you… more like me.”
Patton nodded sagely. “Makes sense. You and your… your… I’m not sure what to call what it is you run.”
“A family business.”
“That’s a funny name for an organized mob.”
“Patton,” Dee said again. “Twenty. Percent.”
Patton made a face. “Twenty— Dee, even if you want the profits back, you know you’d be putting the money in. I have nothing left.”
“And your workers stay. No one is getting canned.”
“Why don’t you just ask for the business, Dee? You could sweep the place out from under my feet in a heartbeat. You could talk a snake out of its skin.” Patton sat back and held his cup to his chest like it would protect him. He looked a little tipsy with the way his eyes slid around the room slowly. “You know how to talk and muscle your way through this mess. I can’t. I’m too soft.”
“You’re not wrong about you being soft. But I’m not a bar owner, Patton. I’m not the go-between for workers.” He adjusted his coat and gave the door a hard look. “I give orders, not a helping hand.”
“Are you paying attention to my conditions?”
Patton blinked. “Twenty percent. Workers stay. But Dee, what does this give you?”
Patton’s expression turned surprisingly sober and serious. “For Remus?”
“For payback on investments.”
Now Patton looked confused with that little wrinkle between his brows. He adjusted his glasses, wiped a hand over his face, and sighed, “I thought you said this wasn’t going to work.”
“I said you weren’t cut out to be a law-breaker,” Dee corrected sharply. “And yeah, this is a fine fuckin’ mess you’ve gotten yourself into. But that don’t mean it can’t be fixed.”
Patton gave him a hazy smile. “Sure is a lotta trouble to be puttin’ yourself through.”
Dee gave him an indulgent smile… and blew smoke into his face. Patton didn’t even flinch. “For you, Patton? I’d set the city on fire.”
Patton smiled and took a slow, slow drink. When he set down his glass, it was empty, and he never lost that shiny, thin-lipped smile. “Liar.”
Dee shrugged and stepped away calmly. “I want twenty percent—”
“So you keep saying—”
“And I’ll get people in the doors. Simple.”
After he nursed his glass for a moment, Patton leaned forward and made a pinched face. “So… I’m not fit to run this business—”
“—but you want to bring it back from the brink.”
Dee gave him an odd look. “You wanted this, Patton. You asked me here in hopes that I would see how pitiful your situation is and offer assistance.”
Patton had the decency to look a little startled. “I… I never said—”
“Yeah, yeah… you asked me to come see the bar for some free drinks. You asked me to come ‘see a show.’ You asked me here and you thought that I wouldn’t figure you out.” He shrugged with a casual smile, tapping ash into the tray on Patton’s desk. “But, like I said, you aren’t built for deception.”
With a sorry expression, Patton turned his glass around and around. “I’m not, huh? Yeah…” he sighed and put his chin in his palms. “I’m not. No one’s a liar like you, Dee. You should give me pointers.”
“Tshuh…” Dee rolled his eyes and took off his hat to smooth back his hair. The panama hat was put back on his head just a touch to the side. “Teachin’ you to lie would be like teachin’ the Pope to sin.”
Patton wrinkled his nose. “Don’t make me out to be a Saint, Dee. You remember our time in school.”
Dee shrugged and waved Patton forward a bit. Patton said forward a bit and Dee cupped his face, kissing both cheeks before he said, “I’ll be in touch. I’ve got business to get to.”
Patton stood up eagerly, chasing Dee around the desk and opening the office door for him. “So… so you’ll—”
“I’ll be in touch,” Dee said again as he walked into the open (empty) bar once more. He wasn’t able to get far before Remus pounced from the shadows, swinging around Dee and grabbing the lapels of his jacket. He hung there for a while, like Dee was the only thing keeping him upright. In the right light, his skin glowed like stolen gold bars. Dee smiled. He liked gold.
Especially the stolen kind.
“Hey, stud.” Remus flicked the end of Dee’s hat up and away from his eyes. His mustache twitched when he smiled. Dee wanted to know what it felt like when he kissed. He refrained, but Remus didn’t make it easy with the way he pressed their bodies together from hip to chest. Remus grinned like he’d accomplished something. “You done with your…” his eyes flickered to Patton, “Business talk?”
Dee pursed his lips and glanced at the stage. Roman had slid down from the stage, taken the tie of the doorman, and was dragging him back behind worn, velvet curtains. He looked back to Remus with a calm, calculated smile. “I’m done with your manager for the night, Dollface. Why? You wanna cause trouble?”
“I’m already trouble,” Remus promised with glittering green eyes. He tugged on Dee’s lapels like he could pull him closer, but they were already pressed together. “Come have a drink with me.”
“I’m tempted, sweet thing. Very tempted. But I’ve got some business…”
“Blow it off,” Remus snapped. He threw an arm around Dee’s shoulders, took off his hat, and smiled. “Buy me a drink and we can see how far you can get me.”
“I think you’re far enough,” Patton said from the office door. Dee glanced back at him, seeing a protective, anxious glint in his eye. His fingers drummed against the frame, but it wasn’t clear which man was the receiver of that frown. Dee wetted his lips and sighed.
“Business, baby. I got business.”
Remus frowned and leaned back a little. His weight was immediately missed, but Remus didn’t really seem to notice. He just twitched his mustache and sighed. “All you fat cats and your business…”
Dee chuckled and took Remus’s chin between his thumb and forefinger. “Easy, songbird. My business is a, ah… family arrangement.” He kissed the tip of Remus’s nose and was rewarded with a surprised, fluttery laugh. He winked. “I’ll be back.” He turned to Patton and said, “I’m gonna have a lawyer write up some papers.”
Patton flinched. “Wha— lawyer? Is that necessary?”
“You have a lawyer?” Remus asked, all jittery hands and wicked eyes. “Damn. I knew you had money…”
Dee watched the way Patton fluttered his hands, and he sighed. The poor man was going to fidget himself to death. With a roll of his eyes, he said, “If I’m going in on this business, I want it on paper.”
Behind the bar, the barback (Virgil, wasn’t it?) seemed alarmed by the prospect. “You—you’re in on the bar? Like a co-owner?”
Patton looked stricken. “No! No, he’s… he’s a… uh—”
Dee smiled and let his eyes shine with it, just for good measure. “Co-owner. I like the sound of that. Might be just what you need, Patton. Someone firm.”
“Oh my god, I bet you’re firm,” Remus growled as he snuck his hands under Dee’s trench coat and grasped at his sides.
Patton still looked anxious. “I… I… when I started my bar, I opened it on my own. So I could be independent.”
“And how’s that workin’ out for you?” Asked Dee, a painfully neutral expression on his face. Patton fidgeted, and suddenly, Remus stepped back. Dee glanced at him, seeing a wary shine in those eyes. There was a smudge of powder on his jacket he hadn’t seen before. Powder? He didn’t know Remus was into that sort of thing. He arched an eyebrow at Remus’s expression. “What?”
Remus’s jaw worked a little. “I like a feisty man just as much as the next fella… but I ain’t too jived about…” he paused and gestured to the odd gap between them and Patton. “Whatever the hell this is.”
Dee raised an eyebrow and glanced at Patton. “Like family, huh?”
Patton didn’t jump to answer. Instead, Remus said, “Patty got me and Roman off the streets.” Dee looked at him and saw a dark glint in his gaze. “And I don’t care how deep your pockets are or how deep you let me in ‘em… you gotta take him serious.”
Oh, so that was it. Patton took in strays. That was par for the course… he was such a bleeding heart. And now certain things clicked into place. The protectiveness, the keen desire for money, and the powder… Dee smiled and nodded. This was a nice development. He’d had plenty of people begging for his attention in the past… but Remus? Remus had something to respect. He had a limit. Dee narrowed his eyes with that smile; self-respect. He never knew that could be so attractive.
“Sure,” Dee said as he glanced back at Patton. “Let me have a lawyer write up some papers… partners, right? Fifty-fifty?”
Patton blinked hard. “That’s not— you said. You said twenty percent.”
Virgil glared at Dee and angrily wiped down the spotless bar top. “Doin’ business with a fuckin’ liar…”
“Not a liar,” Dee said, “I said lawyer. Totally different.” He looked at Patton and smiled. “Twenty percent. We’ll talk.” Then it was Remus’s turn. He gave him an appreciative onceover and a smile. “As for you… you just stand there and look amazing.”
Remus grinned and adjusted Dee’s hat to his preference. No one ever touched his hat. But Remus? Remus was startlingly different. When he spoke, he was cocky and surefire. Dee wouldn’t want it any other way. “I’m always amazing.”
Dee hummed and stepped away from him. “Next time sing something low and slow, songbird. You haven’t seen the last of me.” He pivoted to give Patton a final smile. A bit of the tension in his shoulders was gone, but he was still clearly uneasy. That was fine. The stage was set. The players were in place. This was going to be a fascinating project. Resurrecting a dead bar and pulling Patton from the depths of debt? It was certainly one way to pass the time. Dee turned away and went for the door, waving over his shoulder as he said, “G’night, boys.”
Remus squirmed his way over to Patton and leaned on his shoulder for a moment. Then his grin melted down into something a little unsure as he looked at Patton. “You alright?”
Patton worried his hands together. “I need a drink.”
“But are you okay?”
Virgil was already pouring Patton a drink, and Patton slid into a high seat at the bar. Remus stood next to him, his arms crossed and leaning on the bar top. Patton knocked back a shot and slid his glass toward Virgil. Another was poured. Patton sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face. “He said he’ll bring people to the bar.”
Remus perked up. “That’s good, right? I can’t charm the pants off rich old men if they don’t come through the door.” Patton hummed in agreement, but he still looked anxious. Remus frowned. “What’s wrong, Patty? You still hot and heavy for Dee?”
“No!” Patton blushed prettily and slammed his shot glass on the counter. “No, I am not.”
“So…” Remus drummed his fingers on the bar top coyly. “You wouldn’t mind if I took a bite?”
“I… wouldn’t.” Patton thought for a moment, then slid his cup toward Virgil. Virgil went to refill it, and Patton shook his head before he looked at Remus with eyes that were stern but kind. “I just want you to be careful, Remus. You’ve been hurt before.”
Remus snorted and rolled his eyes to avoid looking at Patton’s worried expression. “I’m not like Roman. He used to think any jackass that looked at him was the love of his goddamn life.”
Patton cocked his head to the side. “But not you?”
Remus’s eyes snapped back to him. “I’m not fifteen anymore, Patton. I don’t believe in all that mushy garbage. If you want to do the horizontal mambo, you do it.” He shrugged at the way Patton made a face. “It’s not complicated. It’s sex. No need to get all attached.”
Patton sighed and leaned his chin into his palm. He gestured for another shot. Virgil gave him one. “I worry about you boys.”
Remus snatched Patton’s shot and knocked it back. He liked the way his head spun on the way down. He smacked his lips and returned the glass with a satisfied hiss. “Worry about Roman. He’s the one marathoning backstage.”
Remus smiled. “If he were smart… he’d be usin’ that appetite to earn a little money.”
Patton twitched and glared at him. “This isn’t a sex club, Remus.”
Remus raised his hands in mock surrender. “I know it ain’t! I’m just saying—”
“The two of you don’t have to earn money like that anymore. That’s what the bar is for.”
“Speakin’ of,” Remus said with a tilt of his head. “When are we getting paid for the month? I’ve got bills, you know.”
Patton twitched… and then he looked away. Virgil and Remus both looked at him. They both needed to be paid. So did Roman and Logan. And Patton looked a little uneasy when he said, “I… things are just a little tight this month. I’ll get it to you by the end of the week.”
“No rush,” Remus sighed. He looked out at the bar.
It was sad and empty… ever since the fire, it had been dead, dead, dead… of course, he had the pleasure of performing at the bar. He could sing his heart out whenever he wanted. But performing to an empty bar was more irritating than depressing. Roman was the one that got all mopey when people didn’t pay attention to his horn. Remus was happy to be paid either way. And the way Dee looked at him? Well… that was an excellent bonus.
Patton leaned against the bar and smiled dreamily at Virgil. “Sugar, you got a face so pretty it could stop a clock, you know that?”
Virgil bit the corners of his smile as he wiped out a glass. “Thanks, boss.”
Remus rolled his eyes and poked Patton’s shoulder. “You’re drunk.”
Patton grinned and didn’t look away from Virgil. “And you’re beautiful. You come here often?”
“Often enough,” Virgil said with a smile. “Need another drink, Mr. Moore?”
There was a pause, and Patton sat up a little with a frown. “I need…” he paused again, looking down at the bar top before he repeated, “I need... “ he didn’t finish that thought. He slid off the barstool and stumbled back into his office.
Remus watched him go, pursing his lips as he leaned back against the bar. He glanced at Virgil. “How much you wanna bet he’s in there gettin’ his rocks off?”
Virgil threw a towel at his face. “He’s not you, Remus. He’s got work to do.”
Remus gasped indignantly, holding the towel to his chest in offense. “I work!”
“It’s not the same. You’re the one with powder up his nose every five minutes.”
“You’re no fun,” Remus cooed. “B’sides… I need something to liven things up. It’s like we’re trying to have a twist in a graveyard.”
Virgil shrugged and wiped the bar top again. “Maybe this… Mr. Dee will be able to help us out.” he glanced at Remus. “What do you think he meant? ‘Twenty percent.’ Is he co-owning? Or just giving the bar a loan?”
Remus grimaced. “A loan would be so boring… loans are so impersonal.”
Virgil made a face. “You never been in debt before?”
“Ah! I’ve been homeless! But look at us,” he gestured to himself and Virgil. “You really think some white banker is gonna give a Persian or a Chinese man a loan?”
“Fair enough, I guess…”
“I hope he co-owns,” Remus concluded with a grin. “Then he’ll be back, and I can wrinkle that nice suit of his.”
Virgil snorted a laugh. “Horizontal mambo… where do you come up with this stuff?”
“I listen to the girls on the corner of the street of my apartment. Nice gals. Great dresses. Makes me miss my backup singers…” Remus sighed and tossed his curly hair. “Oh, my girls…”
“Easy,” Virgil droned tiredly. Roman stumbled out from behind the velvet curtain of the stage looking starry-eyed and pleased with himself. His hair was mussed, and his tie was crooked. Logan stepped out from the other side of the stage looking immaculate. He went to watch the door, and Virgil wiped down the spotless, empty bar once more. “If Mr. Moore is right and Mr. Dee brings people in… maybe you’ll get your girls back.”
Remus felt an odd flip-flop in his chest at the prospect. His girls, the band, and a full bar… it would be like old times. Old times before they had to go underground. Old times when the tips were good, and the liquor was strong. Then he winced; old times were when lovers were quick and rough and too often. Old times meant bruises and memories bubbling to the surface. Old times meant more powder and smoke until the stage was the only thing on his mind.
But… this wasn’t ‘the old times.’ This was now. And now was different because of Mr. Dee. He was the new piece to the puzzle. Did he fit? Remus wanted him to fit. He wanted Dee to fall right into place in the bar and right into his open and available bed. With a smile, Remus reached behind the bar and snatched a bottle. It didn’t matter which one. Virgil called for him to stop, jumping and reaching for him, but Remus had already darted back to the stage. He met Roman at the edge, handing him the bottle. Roman popped off the cork and sat with a smile.
“So! How was it? Did you get him in a private booth?”
Remus grimaced. “Not yet. But I will. I will.”
“Wouldn’t be surprised. He stared at you during the show.”
“Couldn’t keep his eyes off you.”
Remus grinned. “I know.”
“Ah, well… worst-case scenario, he can’t get it up and you can steal his wallet.” Roman took a swig and frowned. “Watered-down… where does Patton find this stuff?” He handed off the bottle and sighed. Remus took a drink, grimaced, and set the bottle on the stage.
“Best-case scenario… we get the band and the girls back.”
Roman lit up with a hopeful smile. “Is that what Patton says? Or the guy with the deep pockets?”
Remus pursed his lips. “Neither. But Patton says Dee is gonna help.” Then he grinned wickedly. “And Dee says he’ll be comin’ back.”
“Comin’ back for you.”
With a wink, Remus took up the bottle again. “Damn right.” He tipped it back and took a long drink, only to lower it with a frown. He looked at Roman. “We need better liquor.”
Roman arched an eyebrow. “Ask the cat with all the money. I’m not paying for it.”
“Nah,” Remus sighed as he leaned an elbow on the stage. He looked around the dead bar and hummed for a moment. Maybe Dee would spruce the place up. New curtains, a better stage, the girls and the band… redone leather booths in the back, harder drinks… it would take effort. But it was doable if you had access to a rich-man’s pocket. He smiled. “I bet he’d do it.”
“Huh?” Roman was frowning at the label on the bottle. “Who would do what?”
“Dee. He’d get us better liquor.”
“Bet he would,” Roman nudged him with a laugh. “If you asked. That man looked like he’d cut off his arm if you’d sneak under his table and give him some attention.”
Remus preened. “I just have that effect on rich men. They know I’m delectable.”
“They know you’re shameless,” Roman corrected with a smile. “But hey. So am I.”
Remus shrugged. “Shame is for marks.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Roman laughed and took a quick drink before he passed the bottle back to Remus. “So. Is he gonna stick around? Because I want to know if I gotta keep an eye on that mug.”
“Not sure yet.”
Roman cocked his head to the side. “Do you want him to stick around?”
“Ah, nosy, nosy… that’s for me to know,” Remus grinned, “And for you to mind your own damn business.”
“I don’t think that’s how the saying goes.”
Remus swatted at him. “I know what I said.”
There was a pause where Roman swung his legs where they hung over the edge of the stage. “Want to put on another show?”
“For six people?” Remus asked tiredly. “Maybe in a minute.”
“You think Dee can really get people through the door?”
Remus wasn’t sure at all. Even so, he smiled. “Of course he can.”
“Maybe things can go back,” Roman said, like he could follow Remus’s train of thought from a few minutes before. “Like the good old days.”
Neither of their ‘good old days’ were actually good old days. They knew that. But still, they sat and hoped idly. It was their flaw. It was something they did together. Twins, bitter and cursed to the very end. Remus smiled and held up the bottle.
“I’ll drink to that.”
Chicago — February, 1922
Roman liked to sit back in the jalopy when it drove, his head thrown back and the window open wide. It let his hair toss in the wind as he smiled at the shimmering lights of the city they passed. When they returned to The Patron they could get Virgil and the truck, steal away their spoils and replenish the bar… until then, it was another lazy Thursday night. Logan was a calm driver. Straight-laced, some may say. But easy and smooth-gliding across the roads.
Calmly, he slid a hand across the stick-shift and rested his palm on Roman’s thigh. Roman glanced at him. He could see the smirk in the corner of his eye. Then Roman leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes. Not even a hint of restlessness. Logan smiled.
“I’m still a little surprised you didn’t actually get in my jalopy and make it rock.”
There was a pause, and Roman smiled. “Well… sex isn’t everything.”
“Not how you used to think.”
Roman laughed at that. “There’s more than one way to enjoy your company, Logan.”
For a while, Logan simply drove. His hand was light on Roman’s thigh. Not quite holding him in place, but more like he wanted to make sure Roman was still there. Not too long ago, Roman would be endangering both of their lives by trying something while Logan was driving. Now he stayed still. He seemed… whimsical. Almost dreamy where he sat looking at Logan.
Logan glanced at him and caught Roman smiling. Tan skin and glittering green eyes met him, and Logan couldn’t help but feel his lips twitch with the promise of a smile. He returned his eyes to the road. “What?”
Roman smiled and leaned back. “Just drive, slick. This night just got started.”
Logan shifted gears and hit the accelerator. The wind whipped through the car and Roman laughed. There were several guns in the backseat. Just for safety, just as a precaution… and for the first time in a while, Logan was relieved to know he wouldn’t have to use them. Not really. The bar was back on its feet. A year ago, that concept had been a far-flung dream… it was heartening to know how much had changed in that span of time.
When Roman sighed, it snapped Logan out of his thoughts. He saw Roman pop the cork on his stolen bourbon and take a little sip. He grinned and shook the bottle like he could taunt Logan into reaching for it. Logan didn’t.
“C’mon… you can’t tell me you don’t want some. You’re southern aren’t you? Southern. Southern-ner.” Roman paused, thought, and concluded: “Sourtherner.”
Roman giggled. “Not drunk enough! Take me somewhere far away. To the Ritz.” He sat upright and got a wild glow in his eyes. “Take me to the Ritz, Logan.”
“New York? Don't think we have the time. We’ve got work to do.”
“Work can wait!”
“And the bar?”
“The bar can wait!”
Logan slowed and took a turn. “Tell me about that new horn you wanted.”
Roman blinked and reached over, holding the bottle to Logan’s lips so he could take a sip and keep driving. “It’s a beaut’, baby. The shiniest damn thing I ever saw.” He sank in his seat and got that sleepy, satisfied look on his face that he always got when he was tired and drunk. Logan knew it well. He took another turn and went over the bridge. Roman liked looking out over the night-dark river. His eyes fluttered shut. “I’m gonna play you any song you ever wanted to hear. Anything.”
Logan smiled. “Most of my southern songs don’t include trumpets.”
Roman hummed, like this needed to be taken into account. Then he reached over an empty hand to take Logan’s. Caramel-brown against dark ebony. Roman sighed again. “Teach me the melody, hotshot. I’ll play it for you.”
Logan smiled and steered them toward home. Within minutes, Roman would be asleep. They would load up the truck and Roman could sleep off the liquor in his dressing room. Until then, Logan drove with one hand on the wheel and the other holding Roman’s.
“I bet you will, sweetheart,” he said as they cleared the bridge. Roman was already dozing. Logan smiled. “I bet you will.”
Chicago — May 23rd, 1921
Logan grimaced at the man that came walking up to the door. Dee was not a trustworthy person. Not in Logan’s opinion. Not yet. And he was a watchman, not a door greeter. So he watched Dee with caution, eyeing the men behind him with their large, wooden crates. He crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his chin.
“Didn’t think you’d be coming back.”
Dee looked amused by that assumption. He smiled and put his hands in his pockets, relaxed and reposed and unbothered by Logan’s broad shoulders and sharp airs. “I’ve got business with your boss. I wasn’t about to run off and leave Patton to the wolves.”
Logan glanced at the crates again. The men looked more than a little strained. His eyes flicked back to Dee. “What’s in the boxes?”
That smile never left when Dee looked at him. “The kinda business that’ll get you paid.” There was a pause, and then the smile fractured ever-so-slightly. There was an edge to his voice when he said, “Open the door.”
Logan hesitated. Patton wouldn’t let his man roam around the bar if he didn’t trust him… but Logan also knew that Patton would trust any shyster that promised him a way out of the mess he was in. With close inspection, Logan could see that the men were armed. So was Dee. Small guns, but guns nonetheless. That wasn’t unusual; every tough-guy in Chicago carried a gun on him… but Logan wasn’t sure if he could trust them to keep the weapons in their pockets.
Besides, who was to say that Dee wouldn’t turn on them the second he had a chance? Who was to say it wasn’t Dee that set The Patron on fire nearly a year ago? Those crates could be full of flammable substances. He could be plotting to burn them all alive this time.
“Logan,” Dee said sharply. Logan twitched; he never told Dee his name. Patton must’ve told him. Still, it was alarming to hear such a stranger address him like an old friend. Dee’s eyes narrowed and he glanced at the door behind Logan. “Do you keep all your patrons waiting like this? Because, if you do, I can see where the problem is…”
With a glare, Logan straightened his glasses and reached back to pull open the door. “Come on in.”
“Good, good…” Dee stepped past him with a mumbled, “It shouldn’t be so hard to do as you're told.” Logan gritted his teeth and watched the crates. Dee wanted to get a rise out of him. He wouldn’t give it. If he was still frustrated, he could go find Roman later. Until then, he was going to watch their uninvited guests. Closely.
When they descended the stairs into the bar, Dee was casual and cool. Looking around the interior of the place like he was uninterested in its contents. Remus and Roman were onstage, but hardly performing. There was no one to perform for. So they sat on the stage, kicking at each other’s feet for entertainment… only for Remus to jump to his feet at the sight of Dee. Roman stayed seated, watching the heavy-lifters with suspicious interest.
“Set ‘em down there, boys.” Dee gestured to the bar with a dismissive hand. Virgil bristled where he stood, like he could fluff up and make himself look intimidating and protective over his shelves of glasses and liquors. Dee was unbothered. He watched Remus skitter down the stage like an insect on a hot plate, bouncing over to where Dee stood with a wild grin. Dee met him with an open arm and Remus immediately tucked himself in. “Hey, Dollface. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Remus laughed brazenly and took Dee’s panama hat and placed it crookedly on his own head. “Been missin’ you, stud. Where’ve you been?”
Dee shrugged and watched Virgil glare at the crates. It was odd for him to be so opposed to the contents. It was only going to help them in the end. Dee smiled when Remus slipped a hand up and under his vest. “Business, baby. I’ve been doin’ business.”
“When you do get a break?” Remus asked. Dee could feel his hand slipping into his back pocket. No wallet there. Remus sounded a little disappointed when his hands started wandering again. “Bet I could make you think of something else.”
Reaching over, Dee brushed a bit of white powder from Remus’s lapels and hummed thoughtfully. “Where’s your boss, songbird?”
Remus scowled and his mustache turned down around the expression. “Be honest. You still diggin’ him? Because he’s hot and bothered by the bartender.”
Dee smirked at that; of course it was common knowledge who Patton adored. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He was always so obvious when he fell in love. With a sigh, Dee shook his head.
“I’m not here to get Patton’s buttons undone, I’m here to button-up his business.”
Remus looked unmoved. “If you wanna undo any buttons, big boy, I’m your first volunteer.”
Dee reclaimed his hat from Remus’s head and kissed his cheek. “Noted. Now get up on that stage and sing somethin’ for me, doll. I’d like a little mood music.”
“Mood music,” Remus repeated, “For talking business with Patton.” He gave Dee a hard look that went all the way down to his toes and back up. “You sure you’re not still sweet on him?”
“It’s business, baby. I don’t get sweet with business.”
“Never?” Remus asked, a little put-out. Dee grinned.
“Not when I’m the only thing around with pockets keen for pickin’.”
“I—” Remus looked a little startled that he’d been caught. “I wasn’t—”
Dee dipped his chin and gave Remus a scolding look. “Maybe you’re rusty. Not many people around for you to practice on, hmm?”
“There would be… if we had good booze.” Remus crossed his arms and gave the empty bar a scathing glare. “We used to have plenty of fat-cats prowling the place. I could get at least four of them to drop their wallets with the right under-the-table service.” Then he turned back to Dee with a tired grin. “Never seen a rich one like you, though. You’re special, Mac.”
Dee arched a single eyebrow and stepped forward, standing a bit taller than Remus. Remus didn’t seem to mind. He simply tilted his head back and smiled. Dee smoothed the creases in Remus’s jacket lapels. “Songbird, when I’m through with this place, there won’t be no more under-the-table services.”
Remus didn’t look bothered. “A man has to make a living somehow.”
“You’re gonna make a living on that damn stage.”
“Can’t if there aren’t any paying customers.”
“That’s why I’m here, baby. To fix things. With business.”
Remus smiled and looped an arm around Dee’s neck. The other hand went under Dee’s jacket. Checking the breast pocket. No wallet there. Better luck next time. Still, Remus smiled. “You keep calling me that.”
“Baby. Songbird. All those good things… do you even remember my name, slick?”
Dee cocked his head to the side. “Do I remember your name? Why, Remus… how could I forget someone as beautiful as you?”
“You won’t,” Remus promised with a wicked grin. “It’s a curse. Buy me a drink and I can tell you why.”
“Just so you can figure out where I hide my wallet?” Dee asked. Remus’s expression fell, and he stepped away, gesturing to the stage. “Sing something, songbird! I won’t be long.”
Remus perked up at that. “So you’re a quick deal, is that what you’re saying?”
Dee pivoted. “I can go as fast or as slow as you want, Remus.”
While Remus cackled and made a zigzag dash for the stage, Dee passed the bar — and the distrusting barkeep — and approached Patton’s office. It was quiet behind the door. Patton had yet to make an appearance, even with all the noise from the crates being brought in. Dee pursed his lips… and knocked. No answer. That was fine. He had no patience for Patton’s fluttering and worrying. So he turned the knob — not even locked? Very irresponsible — and stepped inside.
Patton, to his credit, tried to look prepared for his entrance. This was made very ineffective because his head was down on the desk and his tumbler of bootleg brandy was still half-empty. Dee shut the door behind himself, allowing Patton a little time to stash away his bottle and knock back the last of his drink. From the color in his cheeks and the dizzy way he stood from his desk, Dee could guess he was a few drinks ahead of the rest of them. Dee smiled. Patton tried to smile back and it only came across as a grimace.
“J— Dee.” A long, strange pause, and then Patton said, “Was I expecting you?”
Dee took off his hat and hung it on the wrack by the door. “Did I call?”
“Y— wait. No… no, you didn’t.”
“Then you weren’t expecting me.”
Patton made a strange noise in the back of his throat and Dee turned to look at him. “I’m no good at puzzles, Dee. And you’re the king of mind games, so—”
Patton ignored that. “—so what is it? What do you want? If you’re going to ask for collateral against a loan then I’m sorry to say I don’t have anything.”
“A loan?” Dee asked, a little incredulous. “Whaddaya think I am, Patty? A banker?”
“Maybe you were.” Patton said a little dizzily. “In a past life.”
Dee ignored that and stepped forward to pull and smooth Patton’s lapels. “Chin up, Patty. I’ve come to fix the mess you got yourself into.” Patton was quiet. Dee raised his eyebrows. “A ‘thank you’ would be nice.”
Patton blinked. “You’re gonna be taking twenty percent of my profits. Isn’t that thank you enough?”
Dee waved his hand dismissively. “Ah, you’re not thinking like a businessman, Patton. You oughtta be tough. Ruthless. Cutting.”
Patton looked like a teddy bear in a dynamite factory: out of place and out of sorts. “I’m none of those things.”
“True. You’re not. But, your workers trust you, and I doubt they’d be willing to let me pull the reigns by my designs. So,” he waved Patton around the desk. Patton shuffled around, stepping into the crook of Dee’s waiting arm before he was swept toward the door. “So, we’re gonna give this little place a new look.”
Patton looked nauseous. Maybe that was the swill he’d been drinking. “You’re going to scrub me clean and take twenty percent from my coffin.”
“See?” Dee said as he ushered Patton out into the bar. “Now you’re thinking like a businessman.”
Though Patton hesitated, he allowed himself to be plonked down in one of the barstools. Dee ignored the way Virgil glared at him from behind the bar. His hands worked at a cup with a rag, cleaning the mug over and over while Dee continued to ignore him. Giving this barkeep his attention didn’t serve him well. Nor would it come to a satisfying end. Instead, he turned Patton in his chair so he was looking out at the bar as he gestured to the open, open bar.
“Think of it, Patton. New rouge curtains. Redone leather in the booths—”
Dee glanced at him, watching the way Virgil poured Patton and drink and set it next to his elbow. Patton took it and sipped restlessly. When he was looking at the bar again, there was still a nervous look in his eye. Dee went on.
“We’ll get the flooring of the stage done again. Better set-up for the band. New lights…” he paused, lowered his hand, and gave Patton a long, thoughtful look. Patton was studiously avoiding his eye. Dee smiled and put a hand on the small of Patton’s back and gave him a little pat. “Patty.”
Patton licked his lips and thumbed the edge of his glass. “Dee.”
“Where’s your band?”
Patton smiled thinly and stared straight ahead. “Not here?”
With a quick movement, Dee took the whiskey from Patton’s hand and set it aside, leaning close to catch Patton’s wandering eye. Patton blinked hard, smiling at him with more desperate earnestness, and Dee didn’t care. He didn’t have time for denial. He had enough of that when actually working.
“Patton. Where is the band?”
Patton chewed his words for a moment, then looked down at his lap with a strange amount of shame. “They’re at Lollie’s place.”
Dee blinked slowly. That is was a development… and he wasn’t sure if he was happy about it. He tried to remain cool and calm. With his lips open and teeth together, he tried to smile out the word: “Why?”
Patton shrugged and reached for his glass, but Dee slid it out of reach. Patton looked up at him sharply. “I couldn’t afford to keep them, Dee. I had to let them go.”
“To Lollie’s place.”
“I knew they’d be paid well there – give me my drink, Dee.”
Dee took the glass and leaned his back against the bar. Virgil was glaring at him again, an odd amount of energy going into the expression as Dee pursed his lips. Looking around at the bar, Dee saw the boxes his boys had brought in. Plenty of liquor. Dee sipped at Patton’s drink… and frowned at the watery taste. He returned the glass and Patton polished it off.
“So you sent them to Lollie… when’s the last time you talked to her?”
Patton glanced at one of the crates with a curious twitch of his nose. “Ah… that’s a little… difficult to say.” Dee looked at him, and Patton gave a lopsided shrug as he continued to stare at the boxes. “Was busy. Stuff happened. I didn’t… want to talk to her.”
Before Dee could prod further, Remus swung around the bar and right into Dee’s chest. “Hey stud! Still businessing?”
Dee wanted to be irritated. He really wanted to be irritated. But he could only sling an arm around Remus’s waist and hold him close as he sighed. “Trying to business, baby. Your boss is being so helpful.”
Remus glanced at Patton. “Be helpful.”
“I am!” Patton squeaked, sliding his glass back to Virgil. Virgil seemed to hesitate before pouring him another drink. Patton took it back and held it to his chest like a safety blanket. “I’m… helpful. I want to help everybody. That’s my thing. That’s—”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s always been your problem,” Dee sighed as he thumbed the beltloops on Remus’s pants. He tugged one and Remus pinched him in retaliation. With a smile, he looked at Remus and said, “Say, songbird… when you think of a drum, what’s the first thing that pops into your brain?”
Remus didn’t miss a beat. “Sex.”
Dee winced. “One more shot.”
Remus blinked and said, “Booze?”
“Yes.” Dee took Remus’s chin and gave him a quick, chaste kiss. “Liquor.” He gestured to the boxes with a sweep of his arm as he looked at Patton’s startled face. “And that’s what I brought you. You can’t have a good bar without good drinks.”
“Can’t change the subject like that, slick.” Remus grabbed Dee’s lapels and pulled him down into another kiss. It was messy, a little dizzy, but it was pleasant. There was a spark of something under the pressure, and Remus’s mustache tickled Dee’s upper lip. When he pulled back, Remus grinned and stole Dee’s hat, placing it on his own head with a smile. That was going to be a recurring theme, Dee was sure.
Patton cleared his throat, and Dee glanced at him. Patton pointed at the boxes. “That’s… a lot of liquor, Dee. Boxes of it. How…” he looked a little nervous. “That’s expensive, Dee. I couldn’t get the good stuff if I begged.”
“I didn’t beg, Patton.” Dee said slowly. “Men like me never have to. I got you the liquor… what do you say?”
Dee snapped his fingers officially. “There ya go. Now… what comes next on the list of things that are in a good drum? Remus?”
Remus pursed his lips and glanced around the bar… and his eyes lit up when he saw the stage. The stage that didn’t quite fit him. The one that wasn’t enough for him. He grinned and said: “Good shows.”
With a slow, interested nod, Dee looked at Patton. There was an underlying guilt, there. Like he was ashamed he hadn’t been able to hold onto the band. Dee rolled his eyes; Patton had been the receiver of shit luck. That wasn’t his fault. The bar catching fire wasn’t something he planned, so blaming himself served no end. What would serve an end was getting the band… and that would mean going outside Patton’s comfort zone.
“If you want to draw a crowd, a quiet room with good liquor isn’t enough… there needs to be some entertainment.”
Patton fumbled and tried to avoid the inevitable. “Remus and Roman can entertain!”
“All night long?” Dee asked. Remus practically vibrated at the prospect.
“I can go all night!”
Dee pat his back indulgently. “I already know you’re wild, baby. But you need breaks. That means someone else needs to entertain.”
Remus bounced a little as he looked to Patton for information. He wanted hope and reassurance that everything would go back to the way it was. Dee enjoyed the was Patton squirmed and avoided looking at anyone while Remus said, “So? You’re gettin’ the band back? And my girls?”
Patton fidgeted. “I… well, they’re at Lollie’s, and I—”
“Do you want the band or not?” Dee asked sharply. Patton looked at him, wide-eyed and startled as he opened and closed his mouth in confusion. Dee pressed the question. “Do you want them or not?”
Patton was a little flustered as he glanced back at Virgil for assistance. Virgil, however, fumbled and raised his hands in surrender. Not exactly the picture of grace under pressure, was he? Patton turned back around in his seat and thumbed the rim of his glass. “I… of course I want them back. They were great workers. Everything went together well… and I miss them. We all do.”
“So,” Dee gestured to the door. “We’ll get them. If they want to come back—”
“They do!” Remus piped up excitably. “My girls never wanted to leave!”
Patton winced. “And I didn’t want to let them go, Remus. But—”
“What’s this about the girls?” Roman asked as he sat in the stool next to Patton.
Dee heaved a longsuffering sigh and shook his head. This was getting ridiculous. Wringing his hands over things and worrying about everyone was Patton’s expertise… but now they needed to be a little selfish. They didn’t have to care about what Lollie was going to say. They needed the band, and dammit... they were going to get it. He gave Remus a slap on the back.
“Get your coat, sweet thing. We’re going to the Wonderland.”
Patton looked up sharply, a scared look on his face. Dee ignored it. Remus, however, looked a little confused as he glanced at Patton. “Wh… to get the band. How?”
“By walking inside and taking them,” Dee said simply. “They’re people with free will. They choose where they play. All we have to do is—”
“Dee.” Patton said lowly, a sharp but fragile sound. “I haven’t… I haven’t spoken to Lollie in over a year.”
“That’s not my fault,” Dee said calmly. “If you don’t want to talk to your own sister for that long, it’s on you, darling.”
Patton grimaced and the rest of the bar went oddly quiet. Dee’s eyes flickered to the side, seeing the way Remus and Roman looked at each other. Ah. They didn’t know that Lollie was Patton’s sister. Fascinating. There wasn’t really any reason to keep that under tight raps, but this was Patton. A specialist in hiding his own feelings and repressing until he burst.
But why hide Lollie? Why pretend she wasn’t something important to him? When they were all in school together, Lollie was just as sharp as Dee. They had been a trio of interesting friends. Sometimes, it felt like they were a little family, a group of loosely tied character defects and laughter. Then they graduated and went their separate ways. Patton and Lollie took over the family joint… and Dee took over his own family business. A rift opened between them… and Dee hadn’t bothered to peer into it just so he could see what happened to the others.
Maybe he should have. Then he would know more about the “incident” that occurred in Patton’s bar. He might know what happened between him and Lollie. He knew vague outlines… and one could speculate until the sun burned out. Really… these were all ifs and buts. There wasn’t anyway to go back and change what happened. Now they were there and Patton was just as zipped-up as he used to be. Dee could almost hear Lollie on the playground: Secrets, secrets, are no fun…
Dee sighed and reached out to put a hand on the back of Patton’s neck. Not grabbing, just cradling the base of his skull and turning Patton so their eyes met. “Don’t make me out to be a villain, Patty. You and I both know that ain’t any fun for you.”
Patton sighed and fidgeted with his glass a bit. “Dee… things are… complicated. And even if we do go to Lollie’s place, I don’t have money to pay the band—”
“You will,” Dee promised sharply as he withdrew his hand. “Get your coat, tiger. We’ve got a band to steal.”
Remus looked intrigued by that as he leaned against Dee and grinned. “Steal a band? Now you’re talkin’ my language.”
Roman pursed his lips and looked at Dee. He obviously didn’t trust him… but there was a hunger in his eyes. A desperation. He wanted the band so much… he was willing to follow Dee wherever he went just to retrieve them. And Dee was counting on that. So he pushed away from the bar and slung an arm over Remus’s shoulders.
“Good. We’re going to take the band right out from under Lollie’s feet.”
Patton pivoted back toward Virgil and grumbled, “I need another drink.”
Virgil leaned forward over the bar and put a hand on Patton’s wrist… or just the tips of his fingers, like he wasn’t sure he was allowed to touch Patton. With the way Patton flushed and smiled, he was very much allowed to touch him. Still, Virgil looked serious when he said. “Maybe I should go with you, boss.”
Dee twitched; Virgil would distracted Patton and they needed to focus on the band. “Patty, don’t you need a bartender here while you’re away?”
Patton blinked hard and deflated a little. “I… I guess…”
“Don’t worry!” Roman promised with a wide, smug smile. “I’ll go with you, Pat.” Patton looked appreciative at the offer, but Dee saw the sharp look that Roman sent him. No trust there. A lot of irritation… but also conflict. He wasn’t sure how he thought of Dee yet. That was fine. Roman smoothed the front of his red jacket and said, “If you’re stealin’ things, you won’t find anyone better than me and Remus.”
Dee smiled a pointy smile. “You’re rusty, red. If Remus tryin’ to get in my back pocket is any indication, you’re out of practice.” Roman glared at him, a little miffed he was found out. Dee didn’t mind it. “Besides… we’re not going to pickpocket the band into coming back.”
Roman opened his mouth to argue, but Patton slid off his barstool, stumbled a little, and straightened his glasses. “Alright. Fine. You want to see Lollie? Fine. Let’s go.”
“Cheer up, Patton. Family reunions are supposed to be a good thing.”
Patton looked at him. “Your family reunions are different, Dee.”
“Fair,” Dee said softly. “But still... with all we have to gain? This one will be fun.”
Patton didn’t have to say anything before Virgil poured him a shot and handed it to him. Patton knocked it back and stumbled when he groaned, “I hope you’re right.”
“Oh, Patton… I’m always right. Without fail.”
There were a lot of things that could be said about Patton Moore. He was soft, kind, generous… but he also gave too much of himself away. He gave until there was nothing left. This was the mindset of a man who took altruism too seriously. Dee admired it. Dee also hated it. All this giving away just lead to broken hearts all around. There was no way to just give and give without being broken in the aftermath.
And that’s how he found himself on the front stoop of Lollie’s Wonderland with Patton, eyeing the awkward bow of his head. If they were alone, he’d say something. Probably something about how Patton had cut himself off so entirely from the last vestige of a Good Family Life. Probably about how he never took a moment to assess where he’d brought himself. Probably something about the drinking. But he didn’t.
Because Remus was on his arm and bouncing at the chance to step inside.
“My girls!” he said, his voice high and excited as he bounced and tried to see past the doorman. “My girls are in there! I can hear them!”
Roman pulled a cigarette from his lips and sighed out a lungful of smoke. “I hear Louie on the drums. He was always too hard on the floor tom.” He stepped close to Patton, slinging an arm around his waist and putting the cigarette between Patton’s lips. Patton took a breath and let out a cloud of anxious smoke. Dee watched this carefully, seeing the careful cradle of Roman’s arm around Patton. The next words were under Roman’s breath. “Easy does it. We’re behind you every step.”
The man at the door had left nearly five minutes before. Dee had given his name, and the doorman simply stared at him. It seemed that Lollie’s place was exclusive. Not even a man with Dee’s reputation was getting in without invitation. But Patton gave his name… and now they were on the doorstep while the doorman slunk back through the door to find his boss.
Patton rocked back on his heels into Roman’s arm, then forward, away from him. Then back. Killing time and not daring to say a damn word. Dee sighed and pulled Remus a little closer.
“Songbird,” he said, relishing the way he immediately had Remus’s attention. “What’s the deal with you two and Patton?” Remus stared at him, and Dee reiterated, “What’s the story?”
Remus blinked, shrugged, and slid a hand under Dee’s suitcoat without and urgency. “We was on the streets. Doin’ whatever it took to get some attention and some money. Pat said he was strikin’ out on his own. Said he needed some players.” He shrugged again, not looking Dee in the eye as he spoke. A short, clipped story with plenty of room for detail. “Here we are, I guess.”
Dee hummed, mostly because there were questions to ask, but Patton would snuff them out before they had the chance to answered. This was Patton, after all. King of straight-laced morality. The ruler of pushing yourself to do the most good possible… and ruining yourself in the process. If a topic hit too close or too hard, he would step in and choke it before it had a chance to breathe the truth. It was Patton. Dee used to love that about him.
It was strange how much time had changed him… and yet, Patton hadn’t changed at all.
Before Dee could stew any further, the door to Wonderland swung open to reveal a woman. Not just a woman… but Lollie herself. With the open door, they could hear the music more than ever and it was a mood-setting beat and chorus that lit up Lollie like Grand Central Station. She stood tall and thin with a body like a racetrack, all curves and explosions. With all those beads on her dress, she shimmered and sang wherever she moved, and a headband glinted against soft, hazelnut hair. She saw Patton, gave him a long look… and smiled. With a cross of her arms over her chest – lovely gloves, Lollie – she leaned in the doorway and kicked her leg playfully.
“Look at you… all dolled up to see lil ol’ me.”
Patton nodded but didn’t meet her eye. “Hi, Lollie.”
Lollie took his awkward pause as an opportunity to admire Patton’s entourage. Her eyes stuck on Dee for a moment, but she blinked away long-dead familiarity in an instant. “You brought a whole club.”
“Just the boys, Lollie,” Patton muttered, angrier than Dee thought was necessary. “Just… my boys.”
Lollie raised her eyebrows. “You have… three?” She glanced at Dee again, then her eyes flickered back to Patton. “I mean. When you told Daddy that you didn’t want any dames, I thought you’d just go for one boy, but—”
Patton blushed prettily. Dee used to love that, too. “What—Lollie. That ain’t how this is, and you know it!”
Lollie held her hands up. “Hey, hey, easy! If that’s how you… ah… do things… then I’m not gonna say no.”
Remus made a strange noise. “All of us? I don’t think Patton could handle all of us.”
“I’m not his boy,” Roman piped up. He gestured to Remus and continued, “We’re not. I mean. We’re his boys. But we’re not… His Boys. I’ve got my own boy, and Patton ain’t it. Not that he ain’t nice, but—”
“Yes,” Patton said sharply, a gentle jab to end the ramble. “Thank you, Roman.”
“Oh.” Lollie looked a little disappointed… but relieved. She smiled at Dee. “Just you then? Didn’t think you two would still be rollin’ together so long after school.”
“We’re not,” Dee snapped before Patton could say something. He tightened his hold on Remus’s waist and Remus leaned in without a fight. “I’ve got my eyes someplace else. You gonna let us in? Or are we rat food out here?”
Lollie fiddled with her pearls for a moment… then gestured for them to follow. “C’mon. I’m sure I can find you boys a drink.”
They followed her in, past the doorman who watched them with his dark, beady eyes. The hallway was dim and lit sparingly… but the further they went, the brighter it got. Music poured in from the main room, and Dee could hear a well-tuned band wailing away with singers with nothing to lose. They cleared the entrance to the bar, and the world was lit up with crystal chandeliers. Gossamer curtains were hanging artfully from the ceiling, connecting at different intervals and reaching down to shelter private booths. This was all a very whimsical, Lollie-esque design. But that wasn’t what caught Dee’s attention. No, it was something else: The majority of the people in the bar were women.
It made sense to him. He could see that Lollie had… well. Come-into herself since the last time their paths had crossed. She’d grown. Learned about herself. And now she ran her own bar, rather than the family business. Or maybe it was a result of the prohibition. Either way, he could see by the way she looked at her patrons and her girls… Lollie was not the Good Little Girl he remembered from school.
No, Lollie was a Dame. And she was damn-well acting like it.
“Alright,” she said with a gesture to the bar. “Take a seat or try to holler to Marina. She’s in charge of drinks tonight.” She glanced at Patton, stopping their little journey through the nest of full tables and chairs. “But you didn’t come here for a drink… did you?”
It wasn’t a question. She knew that Patton wanted something. She probably even knew that he wanted his band. But she didn’t say it. No, Lollie was smarter than that. So she was quiet and thoughtful as she pinched her gloved fingers and said, “We’ll go to my office…” she glanced at where Roman and Remus were staring hungrily at the stage, and she grinned. “Maybe leave your boys out here. We can talk.”
Remus grabbed Dee’s lapels and pulled Dee’s close to whisper in his ear. “Those are my girls! Those three up there! That’s Vicky, that’s Scarlet, and little Genie…”
Dee smiled, taking each name and each dazzling face with an interested hum. Then he turned to look at Remus’s excited, lit-up profile. “Why you tellin’ me this, doll?”
Remus blinked and looked a little confused. “Because… because they’re my girls. And you ought to know them. I want to share what’s important to me.”
He was so honest when it said it. Like it was common knowledge. Dee wanted to take it. To take that honesty without a grain of salt or a mistrusting bitterness that always followed. But trust for a man like Dee wasn’t easy, and it didn’t come that fast. He liked Remus. He liked Remus. But liking someone wasn’t easy when one was a mobster. It made things complicated. And it made trusting even harder.
So he smiled and nodded, patting the small of Remus’s back as they neared the stage. Lollie lead them around the edge, waving to loyal patrons and workers as she went, all shiny smiles and glittering jewels. She was doing well and it showed. In comparison, Patton looked like a rusted broach. Maybe the band would shine him up. Maybe having the girls would make him glitter a bit. Time would tell.
“Remus!” A woman screeched. Dee pivoted, seeing one of the girls fluttering her hands and bouncing on the stage. Was that one Vicky? Or was she Scarlet? He hadn’t paid attention. He should have. Vicky (or maybe Scarlet) rushed to the edge of the stage, her hands held out and making grabbing motions as she cried, “Remus! Oh, Remus!”
“Genie!” Remus grinned, jumping forward to hep her down from the stage. Dee frowned; he was wrong on both attempts. He would make sure to memorize the girls’ names and faces. He also made sure to contain the spark of jealousy he felt when Remus scooped Genie into a hug and held tight. “Aw, look at you! Little canary up on the stage, singing bad girl songs!”
Genie giggled. “No one can sing a bad girl song like you, Remus.”
Remus flicked his hair dramatically. “It’s a talent.”
Once the other girls finished their song and got a quick drink, they were twittering along the edge of the stage, eager to reunite with Remus. Dee hung back with Patton, eyeing them with a calm detachment. He saw Remus smile. He saw Roman sneak close to the band, earning playful nudges and laughs from long-time companions. Dee frowned; Remus and Roman had missed these people. And Patton had to let them all go. Because… what? A fire popped up in the bar?
There was more to this than met the eye. Fires happened. People moved on. No… this was more. Patton had been losing money. Big money. And people were being steered away. That wasn’t a coincidence. Dee glanced at Lollie where she was leaning over a table and gossiping with some other dame. Suddenly the gold beads on her dress were mocking. The rouge on her face was fake and damning. She was doing well… and Dee smelled a rat.
Calmly, he put a hand on the small of Patton’s back, feeling the way Patton jumped at his touch before relaxing. He leaned down to murmur, “Lollie’s doing good. Real good.”
Patton didn’t say anything. He watched his boys with tightly-clasped hands. Hands that seemed more nervous than his actual expression. Dee gave his side a squeeze, more to ground him than tease him. He looked around the bar at the nice tables and lights… the good liquors at the bar and the enormous amount of customers. It was a fire hazard to have this many people. It was also a flood of money. In times like these, people wanted a drink. And Dee wasn’t about to ignore the elephant in the room.
Before he could insist they take things to Lollie’s office, Roman bounced back over and smiled excitably. “The boys wanna do a number! They’ve got a spare horn. You mind if I…?”
Patton looked nervous again. This time it showed in his eyes as he fidgeted with his glasses. He didn’t want to be without the extra support, but Roman was already veering off-course. “W-well… I don’t think. I… probably not. Let’s not. This ain’t our place.”
Lollie stood up and waved Roman toward the stage. “Let him play, Patty! After all, there’s no one to play with at your place.”
Dee looked at her sharply. Lollie didn’t even flinch. She simply smiled and waited for Roman to scurry back to the band, eager for a chance to jam with old friends. But he stayed. Roman stood with Patton with an odd, guarded expression on his face.
“Ya know… I think I’ll stick around,” he said, low and distrusting. He slung an arm over Patton’s shoulders, still giving Lollie a dark look. “We got business to discuss, and I’m not about to leave you alone in this dive.”
Lollie didn’t seemed bothered by the jab at her bar. “Aren’t you just the cutest daisy boy.” Roman glared at her, and Lollie sighed, shifting her weight from foot to foot. “If my place is a dive, what does that make your place, Patty?”
Dee grimaced; trading bad insults was getting them nowhere fast. And it was only going to give them issues when they tried to get the band. They needed to make things work and picking fights wasn’t the way to Lollie’s heart. Not this time.
“Take a fin,” Dee said as he handed Roman a fiver. Roman took it with a confused expression before Dee waved him toward the bar. “Get you and your brother somethin' to drink. We can handle the business talks.”
Unfortunately, Roman didn’t seem to want to be dismissed. “I’m not some flapper you can buy off with a drink, Bo. I’m here for Patton.”
Patton tried to speak up, “W—wait, I—"
“Quiet,” Dee snapped, “He doesn’t need you right now. He’s got me.”
Patton baulked. “Dee! I—”
Roman turned to face Dee fully, a dark look in his eye clouding his expression as he said, “Yeah? I thought Remus had you. Make up your mind.”
Dee tilted his head coyly. “Where’s that doorman of yours? I don’t see him anywhere.”
“Boys!” Patton shouted, stepping between them as a literal barrier. People around them were staring. Many of them had moved to get away from an apparent argument. Now, Patton was trying to reign them all in. A substantial task for anyone, let alone Patton. Still, he tried to look as authoritative as possible when he snapped, “That’s enough! We’re guests and we’ve got business to talk about. So Roman… get yourself that drink. And get me a double.”
“Sounds festive! I’ll have a double, too!” Remus called from where he was surrounded.
There were six girls in total. Plenty to backup the backup. And Dee would have to learn all of their names. He watched Remus laugh and touch and gesture wildly. He was happy. He was in his element when by a big, bright stage, surrounded by fellow artists. He didn’t fit on Patton’s little, empty stage. No… he fit perfectly right there with his girls. It was important. And Dee would get them back.
Roman slowly trudged tot the bar, clearly displeased with his marching orders. Lollie, however, seemed highly amused as he went. She watched him with a smile. “He’s a spitfire. And you boys look like you get along swell.” She gave Patton a wink. “They must be a handful.”
Patton looked uniquely uncomfortable when he said, “Let’s… just… let’s talk. In your office.”
There was a hint of hesitation, one where Lollie’s smile fell and she looked very sad. Like Patton had missed some inside joke or bonding opportunity. Who knew? Maybe he had. Things between Patton and his family were odd. Dee didn’t know much about it. He didn’t have to know much about it. He just followed Lollie and Patton to a small, dark corner of the bar, through a door, and into the quiet hush of a neatly-kept office.
When the door closed, the noise of the bar was effectively muffled. She gestured for Dee and Patton to sit on the sofa while she lit herself a cigarette. Once she had gotten a few good puffs of smoke out, she perched herself on the edge of her desk and crossed her long legs right over left.
“So,” she said, far more serious than her tone had been in the club. “I know you didn’t come her to play, Patty. So what’ll it be? Business? Or a social visit?”
Patton worried his hands together and looked at the nice rug under his shoes. “Things at my place are a little… rough right now.”
“So… business.” Lollie puffed a little, her finger tapping her cigarette holder tiredly. There was concern under the gesture, a flicker of fear in her eyes. Dee latched onto it and didn’t forget. Lollie lowered her cig and sighed. “And I heard about your trouble. Some big fire.”
“You heard,” Dee repeated lowly an interested gleam in his eye. “That’s real interestin’. How come you didn’t come to help?”
Lollie gave him an unimpressed look. “Sweetie, the last time you were in our business, our family ran like a well-oiled machine. Things have changed and Patton obviously didn’t tell you why. So don’t come cryin’ to me about what you don’t know.”
“Oh?” Dee said coolly, “We’re going to ignore the fact that Patton told you and your Pop that he has a liking for men and you just happened to split off from the bar and then just happened to have a falling out with him?”
The room was quiet for a moment. Patton looked increasingly uncomfortable. An impressive feat for a man who hadn’t looked at-ease from the moment they stepped out of the cab. Lollie tapped her cigarette against the ashtray and hummed before raising the holder to her lips.
“You told him all that, Patty?”
Patton finally looked at her. “I didn’t tell him anything. That’s just how he is, Lollie. You know that.” He took a breath and steered his eyes back to the floor. Not shameful, but just… not willing to look at his sister as he said, “If it weren’t obvious already… he would’ve figured it out.”
Lollie chewed on her cigarette holder for a moment… then sighed again. “Ya know… when you told Daddy about your… preference… I didn’t get it. I honest to God did not get it. But… times change.” Patton glanced up, a little startled and a little confused. Dee remained cool and suave, a coy smile on his face as Lollie said, “I really thought that… well. You know Daddy. He was always so strict.”
“I know,” Patton muttered.
“And he was so disappointed you weren’t his golden boy anymore.”
“I know,” Patton repeated, a little tired this time. A little frustrated, too.
Lollie dipped her chin a bit, her cigarette holder dangling from thin, delicate fingers. “He was wrong about you, Patty.” There was a pause, one where maybe she hoped that Patton would look at her. He didn’t. His hands clenched his knees, a white-knuckle grip as he listened. Lollie smiled, and there was a gentleness behind it. “You know all my talk out there? It’s just bluster, sweetie. You know I’ve missed you. Daddy was—” she stopped, restarted, and then sighed. “I was wrong about you. Look, I didn’t have all the facts. But now I do. And you’re not broken, Patty. You’re not wrong.”
Patton still didn’t look at her, but there was a trembling edge to his shoulders. One that said he wanted desperately to break. Dee didn’t let him, He crossed his legs and sat back with one smooth motion.
“Ain’t that just the bee’s knees,” he said calmly. Lollie turned those sharp eyes on him and he smiled a wily smile. “You’re so open and accepting, Lollipop. When’d you get so damn nice?”
Lollie looked at him for a long while before she looked to Patton. “Did you bring your little Janus beast here to snip at me? Is that why you’re here?”
Dee flinched; he hadn’t heard his own name like that in… what felt like years. When was the last time he trusted someone with that? When was the last time he felt safe enough to tell anyone his real name? Not for a long time. Not since they were young and stupid and carefree. Not since before his Family Business took root and covered every trace of what he’d once been. In his line of work, letting people know who you really were got anyone you loved killed. It put anyone you touched in danger. His name was a careful and close-held secret.
And yet… Lollie remembered him. Janus. His own name sounded foreign. Janus. How could Lollie remember it after all this time? Patton’s little Janus beast.
He narrowed his eyes a bit and shot Lollie an icy smile. “Let’s cut to the chase. This room is a little crowded.”
When Patton raised his head, he looked a little worse-for-wear. Like someone took a wet towel, rung it out too hard, and stretched out the fabric before leaving it in a heap on the floor. He took a deep, deep breath before he looked at Lollie. “Firstly: don’t call him that.” Dee wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say thank you. So he didn’t. “Secondly: I came here… to make a request. Maybe a barter. I didn’t think you’d…” he took off his glasses and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Jesus Christ, I didn’t think you’d bring up Pops.”
Lollie hummed and fiddled with her cigarette before ultimately setting it in the groove of the ashtray. “Yeah, well… you don’t exactly visit often.”
“I didn’t want to come back.” Silence followed. Patton stared at her. “You told me I was sick.”
Lollie frowned. “I’ve changed.”
“You told me I needed medicine.”
“Yeah!” Lollie snapped as she stood up and pointed to herself angrily. “And I’ve changed, Patty!”
Patton stood up, too. He looked ready to fight. Ready to snap after all the tension that was pulling him limb from limb. Dee didn’t try to interrupt; he stayed seated, watching the argument from a safe social distance as he perched his hands on his knees and smiled nonchalantly.
“After Pop threw me out and you said you wanted to start a bar of our own, I thought you were different! I thought you were on my side!” Patton came out swinging, his face already turning red and eyes glistening. A poor, bleeding heart. It was a shame Lollie got all the fire and left him with soft, soft vulnerabilities. Still, he tried. “We had a place and it was good, and then… then you—”
“This is different!” Lollie shouted back as she waved her hands in the air. “Oh my god. Oh my god! I can’t believe you’re still mad about that…”
“I trusted you!” Patton snapped, “My own sister! I thought you’d have faith in me! That you’d support me!”
Lollie held out her hands. Open palms, like she was trying to give Patton something like reassurance. It was balm on a wound that had long-since healed improperly, and Patton wasn’t soothed. Still, she tried. “I didn’t know, Patty! I didn’t know what all that business was, and now I do, and I’m trying to make up for—”
“Make up for trying to fix me?” Patton shouted as he beat a hand against his chest. Dee watched the display passively. Lollie took it a little harder, recoiling from the anguish in Patton’s eyes when he said, “You’re gonna make up for trying to change me?”
Lollie shook her head and stepped away, pacing the office. “You’re actin’ hysterical… I can’t talk to you like this.”
“You brought it up!” Patton snarled with a vague gesture to the room. “And unless you kick me out, I’ve got nowhere to go tonight. You brought it up. You’re sayin’ you’re changed. What the hell is that supposed to do for me now?”
“I’m tryin’ to apologize here, and you’re making it pretty fuckin’ impossible.”
Patton almost laughed, but he was too wound up to be haughty. “I haven’t heard a goddamn apology yet!”
There was sharp turn on her heel before Lollie looked at him with burning eyes. “You came here for business, didn’t you? What do you want, huh? Tell me so I can say no and get you the fuck outta my club.”
“If you had just—If you had tried to understand,” Patton stressed, ignoring Lollie’s irritated eyeroll. “If you have done the right thing, like a good person, and tried to know me—”
“I did know you!” Lollie said, “Growing up together our whole lives gave me a pretty good fuckin’ idea of who you were! But things got different! I thought…” she lost a little confidence here. “I thought… you were different. And I just wanted things to go back, so I—”
“So you told me about the ‘medication’ that would make me better!” Patton cried, more betrayed than he ought to be.
The wound wasn’t fresh. This had happened years ago. And yet, he looked like it had happened only seconds before. Like Lollie had sat him down and offered him a syringe just a moment before. Like her last breath held an offer for ‘salvation,’ whatever the hell that was. Dee pursed his lips; there was a limit to this argument. But he wasn’t sure where to step-in. There was a small margin that said it would be resolved, but that was up to the delicate little circumstances.
“I’ve got a girl!” Lollie shouted at the top of her lungs, loud and using a diaphragm that was trained in the choir. Patton was clearly shaken. He took a step back, his anger and pain washed out as he took a few, shuddery breaths to level himself.
“Y—you… what? What? A girl… huh?”
Lollie huffed. “After you left, I thought it was for the best. I kept up my place. Made my Wonderland. Met a girl. Worked with her a long time. Missy’s the name. Real sweet. I…” she thinned her lips, frowned, and sighed. “I didn’t… I didn’t get it before. I didn’t get that you were just…” she gestured vaguely. “Drawn to men like that. But… then I met Missy. And I got it.” She looked at Patton and said softly, “I get it, Patty.”
Patton’s shoulders slumped a little. He looked shell-shocked. Dee admired the thoughtful furrow of his brow as his lips shaped a few, silent words before he managed to actually say them. “Just like that. You get it. Just like that.”
“It was like tasting good wine for the first time,” Lollie said softly. “And I felt bad, Patty. For how… how it ended. I really did. But you didn’t wanna hear it. So… so when you showed up tonight, I thought this was my chance to say I was wrong.”
Patton shook a little. His eyes were still shining with tears. He breathed heavily… and he whispered, “I want an apology.”
Lollie didn’t shy away. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah?” Patton asked, his voice shaky and cracking. “Yeah? You’re sorry?”
With careful hands, Lollie reached out. She drew Patton in… and she hugged him. Dee sat back, feeling a calm settle in the air. The crackle of tension was still there, but smoother. Like rough waves slowly being flattened. Dee inspected his nails before he sighed.
“This was a nice reunion. Real touching. You’re giving me the warm-fuzzies with all your sweet talk.” Lollie pivoted their embrace just so she could flip Dee the bird, and he only smiled sharply. “With that all settled, can we get back to business?”
Lollie made sure to hold Patton a little longer when she muttered over his shoulder: “You’re a ray of fuckin’ sunshine, Dee. Always were a businessman.”
Dee smiled and scrunched his nose. “And the two of you seem to be chummy again. We came full circle.”
There was a pause, one where Lollie and Patton collectively mulled the conversation and argument they’d just had. One where wounds were still open, and apologies had yet to settle-in. But there was a bar at stake, and with the bar came several other people’s livelihoods. So they held each other, trying to hold and heal while the world continued to turn.
Dee could still hear Patton’s voice, even if he purposefully mumbled. “I’m still upset.”
Lollie wasn’t swayed. “I know.”
“It’s… it’s gonna take more than an apology for me to—”
Again, “I know.”
“Okay,” Patton whispered against Lollie’s shoulder. She held him a little tighter, her eyes shut tight as she held her little brother. Dee could appreciate the intimacy and agony that went into the embrace. How long had it been? Too long. Patton took a breath… then Lollie… and they separated. Patton took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Lollie repeated with a little smile. “Sit down. We’ll talk.” Patton did, and she offered him a cigarette. Patton took one and shakily smoked away the last of the jitters that came with the argument. Lollie perched herself on her desk again, her long, long legs crossed as she balanced her cigarette holder in her delicate fingers. “So… why did you really come here?”
Dee smiled. “The Patron has fallen on some hard times.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard.”
“That means Patton had to let go of the band.”
Lollie raised an eyebrow and smiled with those stop sign-red lips. Dee ignored the sign. “Are you playin’, Dee? Because I knew where they came from. It’s not my first time around the block.”
This didn’t bother Dee. He kept going. “Great. That means you know what we’re here for.”
Lollie glanced at Patton. “You need money, Patty? How much?”
Patton baulked and choked on a lungful of smoke. “N-no! No. No, I’m… I’ve already sold my soul to Jan— I mean Dee. He’s helping with finances.”
Her eyes slid back to Dee, almost coy where they settled on him. “Yeah? That’s real nice of you, Dee. Real altruistic.”
“I’m a generous man,” Dee smiled. Lollie didn’t buy it. He couldn’t blame her.
“Yeah. Sure. What’s your game, Dee? You tryin’ to play Patty like a fiddle? I mean. He’s an easy play, but it’s a little low, even for you.”
“Hey!” Patton squawked indignantly. Dee waved the accusation away.
“I’m not playing anyone, Lollipop. I’m interested in the bar.”
“Liar,” Lollie snickered.
“It’s the honest to god truth. He needs help and I’ve got time.”
“Two strikes, Dee,” Lollie had him pinned. She knew him too well, even after all those years. “One more and you’re out.”
Dee smiled thinly. “You’re a sharp one, Lols… I bet your girl appreciates that.”
“She appreciates a lot of me, Dee. Get to the point. Why are you here?”
“Can’t a man just help an old friend out of the goodness of his heart?” Patton and Lollie stared at him. Dee huffed. “Don’t look at me like that; I can be nice. Once in a while. Once in a… very rare while.”
Lollie looked at Patton and smirked. “You’ve got him whipped, sweetie.”
Patton blushed and Dee sat forward to snap, “Dammit, Lollie, I told you we’re not—”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re not whatever…” She took a drag from her cigarette and sighed out some smoke. “So what are you really here for?”
Dee folded his hands atop his crossed legs. “We came here to take Patton’s band and singers.”
Lollie laughed, rocking back on her desk as she shook her head. “Oh yeah?” She asked after she caught her breath. “How? What’re you gonna give me for ‘em?”
“Nothing,” Dee said with a smile. “We’re gonna take them and leave.”
Another lighthearted giggle. “Oh yeah? That easy?”
Patton chose this opportunity to sit forward and speak softly. “Lollie… are they under contract?”
Lollie fiddled with her cigarette a bit. “Little hard to get legality messed up with speakeasies, sweetie. If they go back on a contract, who do I take it to? A lawyer? And tell them that someone broke a contract in an illegal bar?”
“So that’s a no,” Dee said stiffly. Lollie gave him a bored look.
“Yeah. It’s a no.” She looked to Patton and pursed her lips thoughtfully. “You really gonna sweep them out from under me, Patty? After all this time you came to snatch your band back?”
Patton gave Dee a sidelong look. “This… wasn’t exactly what I thought was going to happen.”
Dee shrugged. “He can’t buy them from you, Lols. And no one else would make his main performers happy.”
Lollie blinked slowly. “Then get other main performers.”
“I can’t,” Patton said a little too quickly. That protective air around him rose up, and he was that same Patton that Dee remembered in school. The one that adopted every lost creature that crossed his path, protecting it until he smothered it. “I won’t. Those boys are artists and I don’t want anyone else taking the main stage.”
For a moment, Lollie just thought about it. Really, she was in the right position to demand they leave and never come back. They were explicitly saying they’d come to steal her entertainment. But things were being mended between Patton and his sister. Dee was hoping that was enough to bridge the gap and make the interaction so smoothly. Maybe that was too much to hope for. In the worst-case scenario, he’d just go out and hire a new band. Maybe some new girls for Remus to fawn over, too. That wouldn’t really make Remus happy… not really… but it was a last resort.
“Alright,” Lollie said after a minute. Dee looked at her, seeing the thoughtful glint in her eyes. There were dollar signs flickering through her brown irises, and when she blinked, they vanished. She sighed and crushed the last of her cigarette in her crystal ashtray. “Give me ‘till the end of the week. I’ll need to find replacements.”
“Right. Of course.” Patton nodded, paused, and looked at his sister with wide eyes. “Really? Are you serious?”
Lollie smiled and slid off her desk. “To be honest, Patty… the girls? They never stopped talking about you and your singer… Remus? Yeah. They missed him. And the band never sounded quite right. They said you had the perfect trumpet player. What was his name?”
Patton stood with a smile. “Roman. And they two of them have missed the others. I… really, I can’t imagine them performing with anyone else.”
Lollie smiled. “Then you’re lucky I’m willing to let them go. Especially to a bar that… ‘isn’t doing so well’ in rumor serves.”
Though Patton winced, Dee didn’t let that deter him. “Hard times, Lollie. Everyone falls on ‘em. But we’re fixing things. Turning it all around.”
“Good!” Lollie said with a hint of laughter in her voice. “Turn it around… and when it’s all facing the right way, let me know.” She winked at Patton. “I want to come by and see your actual boy.”
Patton laughed, but it was a shaky, nervous giggle. He was blushing again, that flustered red that meant he was undoubtably thinking of Virgil. Really, Dee knew this was Lollie’s way of trying to make things right. To give and hope that it would fill the gap that she’d left between them. But it would take more than that. It would take time with this new understanding. Though, really, the band would help, seeing as having actual entertainment would help Patton make money. Now, all they had to do was ensure the proper channels for supplies were opened and people came through the doors.
Those things were easier said than done, but Dee was a mobster, not a daydreamer. Anything could get done with enough blackmail and bullets.
So he stood and made sure his coat was buttoned as he smiled. “So good to see you again, Lollie. You were always such a hostess.”
Lollie gave him a half-interested look before she smiled. “Such a great liar, Dee. You gonna be like that all your life?”
“Definitely,” Dee said without a pause. He reached over to put a hand against the small of Patton’s back. “I’ll be out in the bar.”
Patton looked at him with wide eyes. “Wha—that’s all? You came all this way to just… say that. And now you’re done?”
“Obviously?” Dee gestured to the siblings with a thoughtful look. “Whatever the hell is goin’ on between the two of you is none of my business.”
“Everything is your business,” Lollie said lowly. He ignored that, but she went on with, “You stick your nose everywhere until you got dirt on everyone.”
“Blackmail makes the world go round, Lollipop. But I’m not here to eavesdrop on anymore mush. I’m just here for the band.” He glanced at Patton. “I’ll be with the twins when you’re done.”
Patton couldn’t protest before Dee slipped out of the office. On his way, he nearly ran over a short woman with soft curves and a surprised smile on her face. Short and curly red hair... big, bright caramel eyes... she was the type of soft that screamed 'Lollie's Girl.' Lollie had always had a thing for redheads. She caught Dee's arms and held him in place. “Whoop! Nearly knocked each other over.”
Dee pressed his lips together in a thin line. “You must be Missy.”
Missy blinked hard and withdrew her hands. “Y—you… was Lollie talking about me?”
“All good things,” Dee promised without weight to the words.
He sidestepped her and ignored the confused glanced she sent him on his retreat. Instead, he sought out Remus where he was still crowded at the base of the stage. The band was playing something loud and driving with Roman taking the spotlight as a wild trumpeter with little to lose. Some girls whooped and hollered for the attention of the band, but most of the singers were around Remus or tucked into one of his arms. They missed him the same way the cat missed the canary, but there was a difference to it. Maybe it was more like mice missing the rats. That seemed apt.
Dee pushed his hands into his pockets and approached the group slowly. When he was close enough, Remus saw him and got a hopeful, burning look on his face. Dee smiled slyly. Each singer was looking at him; six girls and one Remus all stared at him with purpose. Dee leaned back casually.
“Lollie is keeping them ‘till the end of the week.”
The fire in Remus’s eyes burned a little brighter. “Then…”
Dee nodded once. “Then they’re yours, baby. If you want them.”
It’s unclear how Remus managed to do it, but he untangled himself from the girls and launched himself at Dee. He latched himself to Dee parasite, holding him close enough to suffocate in the most pleasant way. He kissed him hard and with abandon. Remus never held back. Dee loved that.
When he pulled back, he was grinning from ear to ear. “If I didn’t already love your wallet, I might say I love you.”
“We’ve got time,” Dee promised, punctuating his words with a kiss that left Remus a little shuddery in his arms. He smiled. “I’m sure you’ll come around.”
Remus laughed loudly. “You gonna win me over? Gonna get the girls back and make me a star?”
Dee smiled and held him close. This was more than just them. There was more to everything. More to Patton, more to the doorman and the barkeeper… and even to Roman. But with Remus in Dee’s arms, backlit by the stage lights and flocked by giggling, whispering girls, it was clear Remus was in his element. He was born to perform. To be a Big Show. Dee was going to make that happen. He was going to set things right. So he smiled and held Remus to him with a smile.
“Whatever it takes, baby. Whatever it takes.”
I'm on tumblr @ misplaced-my-notes
See you next chapter!
Chicago — February, 1922
The end of the night was cool with thunder rumbling on the horizon. Or maybe it was gunfire somewhere along the edges of the city; everything was legal when there weren’t cops around to monitor places. So things went unnoticed… or unexplored… or they were purposefully overlooked due to some good money.
So Logan was allowed to drive freely through the city and around the back of the Patron while nodding to a discreet police officer. The man had been paid through the month with a steady supply of his favorite bootleg, and he knew who should and shouldn’t be allowed behind the Patron. Logan pulled up the alongside the building, stepping out onto the shimmering, continuously damp alley with Roman slowly making his grand exit from the car. His hair was mussed from the wind and he had a sleepy, pleased grin on his face. It was nice to see that something other than sex could do that.
Logan checked his gun in his pocket, just to be sure, only to have Roman looked at him.
Roman raised a single eyebrow. “What? Do you think Virgil’s gonna pull the wool over your eyes? Think he’ll pull a fast one on you and button you up?”
Logan twitched and smoothed his jacket. “He… might.” Roman stared at him. Logan huffed. “Alright, I know he wouldn’t… but it’s better to be safe.”
“You’re too smart for your own good,” Roman sighed as he went for the back door. He knocked three times. Logan followed him, sneaking an arm around Roman’s waist as they waited for someone to come to the door. Roman smiled and leaned back against him. “Bet I know what would loosen those buttons of yours.”
“Sex, sex, sex… is that all I am to you?”
Roman looked at him and held up his stolen liquor. “You’re all kinds of good times, Logan. We just need the right props.”
Logan narrowed his eyes. “I’m not… entirely sure… what you’re trying to say, doll.”
Luckily, the door swung open to reveal Virgil in all his glory. With a towel over his shoulder and a set of keys in his hand, he looked ready to breeze out of the bar without so much as a ‘how was the trip?’ It was efficient. Logan appreciated efficiency.
“They’re on the west docks,” he said as they traded places in the doorway. Roman yawned and stretched his arms above his head, and Logan looked back at Virgil. “Roman tried to talk, but they wouldn’t hear it.”
Virgil looked at him with a bit of interest. “Yeah? That why you smell like gunpowder?”
Roman laughed at that, but Logan remained stone-faced as he said, “I did what I had to do to clear the place. It’s ripe for the pickin’.”
“He protected my honor,” Roman said proudly.
Logan was monotone when he replied, “I protected your suits’ honor.”
Virgil ignored both and fiddled with his keys. “Looks like a portion of that source is going to Lollie, anyway. Did they have gin?”
Logan pursed his lips. “Corn. Lots and lots of corn.”
“We already have bourbon. We need gin.” Virgil jingled the keys nervously… and then said, “Go ask Patton what we should do.”
Roman peeked around the doorway. “Why don’t you go back in and ask him yourself?”
Virgil’s face went an interesting shade in the shadow of the alleyway. “Because none of your damn business, that’s why.”
As if to share a deep dark secret, Roman leaned against Logan’s shoulder and whispered, “Bet you they were getting fiddly in the office again.”
Logan was only half-whispering when he said, “Better than Patton getting drunk in the office again.”
Virgil looked at him… and there was a hint of anxiety in his eyes. “He’s doin’ better. I… he’s trying.”
“We know,” Logan said stiffly, though there was a hint of something soft hidden underneath the words. He straightened his glasses and pulled out a cigarette, ducking inside to have a little smoke before he had to take up his place at the door once more.
Roman sighed, letting Logan sweep past him while Virgil stood waiting for an answer. With a shrug, Roman scrubbed a hand through his messy hair. “I’ll go ask Patton about the bourbon. Where’s Remus?”
“Where do you think?” Virgil snorted and nodded toward the interior of the bar. “With Dee in his private booth, obviously.”
Roman shook his head with a fond smile. “Wait here, slick. I’ll get you the goods from the boss.”
Virgil kicked his foot and dug in his pockets for a pack of cigarettes. “Don’t keep me watin’, Drama Queen.”
Roman glanced at him. “Impatient! I wonder how Patton deals with that.”
There was hardly a beat of thought before Virgil flushed and said, “Get the damn marching orders, Roman.”
“Yeah, yeah… don’t gotta tell me twice.”
Chicago — June 17th, 1921
Patton was at the bar. This was never a new thing. Patton was almost always at the bar if he wasn’t in his office. Having him sit at the bar was something Virgil always thoroughly enjoyed. However, he didn’t enjoy the tired knit of Patton’s brow or the anxious flutter of his hands. It made him worry about him… and the rest of the bar. But mostly Patton. But those things could be overlooked when Patton sat with him and talked after a few stiff drinks loosened his tongue.
But that was also the issue.
Virgil wasn’t a bartender. He hadn’t been hired as one, either. Really, he’d been hired to do heavy labor… and that let him avoid the crowds of a busy bar. Which was appreciated, seeing as he was never a fan of crowds. He was too anxious for all that. But the bar was going down and cuts had to be made… and Virgil was the only one without something to do. So… bartending.
It was a simple job when you factor in the number of people that come into the bar every night (which you could usually count on one hand). But now with Dee coming by with all his money and improvements… Virgil’s job was starting to pick up again. It was more irritating than anything. He didn’t like dealing with people. He didn’t like talking to strangers. Maybe Patton had been the exception? He wasn’t entirely sure. He didn’t so much as make an exception for Patton… Patton just sort of… waltzed into his life and made himself at home. But Virgil digressed.
The issue at hand was the actual bar: and Patton was drinking. These days, Patton always seemed to be pouring himself a glass of something. He was under a lot of stress. America was still shaken by war and nerves were a little shot… so everyone was a little on edge. But Patton drank like a fish. Maybe Virgil should say something… but they all had an issue. Everyone struggled. Who was he to judge?
“Virgil!” Patton laughed as he rocked forward in his seat and leaned his hands on the counter. Virgil glanced at him, and Patton rested his chin in the palm of his hand. “Gosh, you’re tall.”
Virgil wiped down the counter. “Sure am.”
“What’d you do to get so tall?”
Virgil feigned thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Joined a cult.”
Patton nodded sagely. “That makes sense.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Nah, it really doesn’t… but look!” Patton swept out an arm and indicated to the interior of the bar. The floors had been redone, new paint was on the walls, and soon, someone would repair the leather booths along the wall. Patton looked obscenely proud for a man who had orchestrated none of the repairs. He leaned back against the bar and sighed. “Look at my place.”
“Looks nice, Mr. Moore.”
“Virgil.” Patton’s voice was low and serious, which wasn’t like him. He glanced at Virgil over his shoulder, his glasses slipping down on his nose to give him a proper ‘Disapproving Librarian’ look. “Call me Patton.”
Virgil lifted his chin and pursed his lips. “What would you do if I said no?”
Patton reached for his glass of bourbon, missed a few times, and gave up on the third try. “I’d… you… you’re fired.”
Virgil snorted. “Nice try. You can’t fire me.”
“You’re right,” Patton sighed as he turned back around and laid his head on the bar. “You’re too important.”
A little flutter of excitement worked its way through Virgil’s stomach. But he was a master of overthinking. Did Patton mean that he valued Virgil? Or was he saying that Virgil was special because he was the only one able to lift crates of alcohol with little strain? It could be both. He and Logan were the only ones fit to work behind the scenes. Patton didn’t want him, not like he wanted Patton. Right? It was all speculation.
Quietly, Virgil glanced up at the band. They played something that swung a bit. One that made it easy for the girls to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ to Remus’s looping vocals. He seemed bright up there, back in his element while Roman stood in the backlights, playing his trumpet with little to lose. Somewhere outside the sweet-talk and the sounds, there were roughly twenty people in the bar. More than there had been in ages. And more were filing through the door. Dark guys in dark clothing. Virgil wiped the inside of a glass and frowned; it was Dee’s doing, probably.
“You’re making a face,” Patton said softly. There was a pause where he giggled, and he whispered, “You’ve got a nice face.” Virgil twitched, unsure of how to smoothly respond. Luckily, Patton pivoted in his seat and looked out at the bar again. “We got… we got ‘em in here. We got people servin’ drinks.” He sat up a little, looking more confused than happy about this change. “It’s almost like old times.”
“Old times were good, boss.”
“Sure,” Patton muttered. “Sure they were. I just want…” another pause, and Patton turned in his chair. “Do you like whipped cream?”
Virgil blinked. How drunk was he? With a shaky hand, Virgil put the glass he was holding on one of the shelves behind him. “Whipped cream? Like… on a sundae?”
Patton nodded. “I’m craving it. Craving some whipped cream. Let’s go get some.”
Virgil laughed. “I’m on the clock, boss.”
“Shoot… well. Guess that’s that!”
Patton slid off his barstool, stumbled a little, and reached over the bar with an open hand. When Virgil didn’t take it, he wiggled his fingers expectantly. Virgil reached out… and placed the rag in Patton’s hand. Patton smiled and tucked it into the pocket of his jacket. Interesting. Then he shuffled off to his office where he would disappear for several hours… and poke his head out once the bar was closed. Virgil found another rag and went back to cleaning, giving out drinks sparingly until Dick got back from his break and he could watch the bar again.
Something felt… different. He knew when something felt off. He knew when he was being watched. He turned, searching for the itchy feeling on the back of his neck… and he found it. Dee was standing in the back of the bar watching the stage. He watched Remus sing and bounce around the stage with his backup singers with a strange expression on his face. Maybe it was the low light, but it almost looked like he might be smiling.
Apparently, Dee had the same sense that told him when someone was watching him because he turned to catch Virgil’s eye. With his hat pulled a little low, he stalked over to the bar, pulled back a stool, and took a seat.
“Give me somethin’ short and smoky, like that songbird up there.”
Virgil gave him a sidelong look. “I don’t sell liquid cocaine addicts.”
Dee glanced up and smiled that wry smile. Virgil knew that kind of smile. He worked with men like that more years before he got the courage to get the hell out. Dee was a King of Organized Crime. The key word is ‘organized’ because without it, you’re just a smalltime hood that no one takes seriously. And Dee had that Organized look to him. With the crisp coat and the clean hat… shiny shoes and a white smile that made you feel a little pale in comparison… he looked like a ringleader. Virgil didn’t like ringleaders.
“Ya know,” Dee said, slow and with purpose, “Last time I was here, I didn’t see it, but now…” He smiled and it looked a little dangerous. “I think I know you.”
Virgil looked away. He shouldn’t have. That marked him as guilty. “Oh yeah?”
Dee sat forward. He knew he was onto something. “Where have I seen you before?”
“Nowhere,” Virgil grumbled as he set a glass in front of Dee. “What do you want to drink?”
Dee didn’t let it drop. “You sure I haven’t seen you somewhere?”
“Down by the docks, maybe.”
Virgil glanced at him. “Yeah? You think it’s the docks ‘cause I’m Asian? You think we all hide down there in the docks like wharf roaches?”
Dee leaned back. “Maybe not, then.”
Virgil took a bottle of gin – stronger than it used to be… all because Dee was getting them better suppliers – and he poured half a glass for Dee. He pushed it forward. “There you go. Don’t forget a tip.”
While Dee chuckled, Virgil turned his back. It left Dee to watch Remus on the stage, all shining lights and wide, wild smiles. He looked free and irresponsible. He glimmered in the lights as he danced and swayed with his backup singers with abandon. They loved him. They loved him. And the stage loved him, too. Roman’s music rocked the world to its core, but Remus… Remus was a force of nature. Dee couldn’t look away if he wanted.
But he didn’t exactly have the luxury to sit around for long.
So he knocked back his gin, left Virgil a fiver on the bar, and slipped away to hunt down Patton. He was hiding in his office, as per the usual. But instead of moping at his desk like where Dee had found him a few weeks ago, Patton was on his sofa, laying back with his legs kicked up on the armrest. He had an arm thrown over his eyes and his glasses were on the desk. He had a rag in the breast pocket of his vest. Interesting. He looked… almost peaceful. Almost.
Dee slammed the door shut, just to make a point, but Patton didn’t look up. Not asleep yet… but he knew that it was Dee. With a sigh, Dee took off his hat and used it to whack Patton’s feet where they hung over the sofa. It revealed a pair of bright-blue paisley socks under his cuff of clean trousers. Dee huffed again.
“Patty-cake. I come all this way to see if things are goin’ smooth, and you won’t even say hello?”
The arm over his eyes didn’t move, but Patton smiled. “Hi, Janny.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Jana… Janus. Jan… ice.”
Dee snorted and went digging for a cigarette. “How drunk are you, Patty?”
“Not drunk enough!” Patton laughed. Finally, he removed the arm from his eyes and grinned at him. “Look at you, standin’ there all pretty. Gonna come shake me like a martini?”
“You wish, baby. Got a light?” When Patton sat up to fish in his pockets for a lighter, Dee sat down next to him on the sofa. The lighter clicked, and Dee took the spark with a slow inhale. Patton rubbed his eyes as he smoked a bit, like he was waiting for something. Dee didn’t mind it. He blew out smoke and Patton yawned… and leaned over to rest his head on Dee’s shoulder. Dee smiled. “Bet you’d make that ‘bartender’ of yours happy if you leaned on him like this.”
“Who?” Patton asked breathily. “Dick?”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s got one.”
There was a pause. Then Patton sat up and slapped Dee’s arm. “No! Dick. My bartender. He’s on break. Why would I…? Oh. Oh.” Patton’s cheeks were already flushed, but he seemed to look just a little bit dizzier. “You mean Virgil.”
Dee smiled and took a drag of his cigarette while Patton sighed and fluttered his hands. “What the hell is up with you two?”
“Nothing,” Patton said sloppily. Then, he looked a little conspiratorial as he whispered, “Mmm… want there to be something… but nothing.”
“I’m going to say this once, and I’m going to say it with love, Patty: tell him what you want.” Dee gave Patton’s squinted, confused eyes a fond smile before he blew smoke in his face. Patton grimaced harder, and Dee smiled. “A man like that isn’t going to make the first move. Too jittery.”
“Isn’t he?” Patton said, all little uneven as he started to tip to the side. Dee put an arm around him to keep him from falling off the sofa. Patton laughed and leaned against him. “You ever meet somebody,” he said with a dreamy grin, “That… whenever they talk, you’d just be happy to listen to their whole life story?”
Dee made a strange noise in the back of his throat. “Sounds sticky.”
Patton reached out a drunken hand to pat Dee’s face. Dee leaned back, trying to remove the hand as gently as he could (which was a challenge for an irritated man being slapped with a sweaty palm). “And! And… you feel like they’d listen? If you wanted to tell your life story?”
“Nope,” Dee lied. “Never.”
Patton frowned. “Well aren’t you just a ray of sunshine. I’m talking about Virgil.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
“He’d listen,” Patton sighed with that sleepy, tipsy smile. “I bet he’d listen. And I’d listen to him.”
Dee looked at him for a moment. Did Patton know where Virgil came from? Did he know that Virgil was just as dark as Dee was? That all their lives were a ridiculous tangled web of backchannel connections and underground deals? Maybe. Probably. But it didn’t matter. Patton was always willing to overlook past indiscretions in favor of newer, more selfless behavior. It made Dee curious… what did Virgil do to catch Patton like this?
Dee gave Patton’s hair a bored pat as he let out a lungful of smoke. “Where’d you meet him, Patty?”
“Hmm? Met him on the street. Looked tall and strong. Offered him a job…” Patton paused, yawned, and rubbed his cheek against Dee’s shoulder. “He’s sweet, Dee. If you get to know him.”
Dee doubted that. Virgil would bite his head off before he let Dee too close. So he changed the subject none-too-subtly. “I’m just here to make sure things are goin’ smooth, Patty. Making sure you have people coming through the door, and the liquor is getting here in one piece…”
Patton closed his eyes and sighed. “Mmm… where are they coming from?”
Dee blinked. “… the liquor…?”
“Where are these—” Patton hiccupped, “These… people. Where are they coming from?”
With a soft chuckle, Dee blew smoke straight up into the air. “You needed people to come to the bar… I’ve got boys who need a place to drink… simple as that.”
Patton’s eyes opened wide. “You’re making your lackies come here to drink?”
“That’s a, ah… oversimplification.”
Patton sat up and gave Dee a blurry, disapproving look. “You ordered your boys to come here.”
Dee winced and waved his hand to and fro. “Nasty words, Patty-cake. I prefer to say that I ‘gently persuaded’ them to come here.”
“Gently persuaded,” Patton repeated with a smile and a shake of his head. Slowly, he plopped his head on De’s shoulder once more. “You’re going to a lot of trouble.”
Dee sighed, and smoke blew through Patton’s hair. Then, he kissed Patton’s temple. It was almost an absent action, like he did this often. He didn’t… not even when they were together. No, there was something different between them now. And he couldn’t be bothered by that development. Instead, he just gave Patton a solid pat on the back as he continued to smoke.
“’Course I’m going through the trouble. I’d do anything for a close friend. That’s what makes the world go round. Close friends.”
Patton glanced up at him with squinty blue eyes. “When you say, ‘close friends’ it makes me think I’m part of your ‘family.’”
Dee pursed his lips. “Sounds like a lotta commitment, Patty. Let’s put a pin in that.”
Still, Patton looked at him. There was a thoughtfulness glittering behind the hazy of drunkenness. It didn’t go far. Patton was clearly drunk and sleepy. “You say you’re doin’ this for a close friend… but what about Remus?”
Dee remained stone-faced. “What about him?”
Patton leaned away from him so he could give Dee a long, scrutinizing look. “Dee.”
“You and him were getting real cozy. Then you just left him to dangle! He isn’t a chump, Dee. Don’t act like he is.”
“I never said he was.” Dee stood up and walked across the office, leaving the sofa open for Patton once more. Luckily, Patton laid back down and closed his eyes. Dee smoked, glancing at the door of the office. “Patty, you need to know that people getting close to me is dangerous.”
Patton’s voice was soft but stubborn. “I’ve never been in danger.”
“Because I’m good at keeping an eye on you,” Dee said darkly.
“Then why not Remus? You were all smitten before.”
“I was not smitten,” Dee lied poorly. Patton smiled, and Dee knew he was caught. He crushed his cigarette in the ash tray on Patton’s desk, more irritated than endeared. “I didn’t come here to bump gums about your boys. I came to make sure things are runnin’ smooth.”
Patton didn’t move. “They’re running.”
“Enough to pay my people…” he paused, then hiccupped again. “For the most part.”
“Good. I’ve got a few errands to run. Just to make sure you keep getting the things you need to keep this damn place open.” Dee went for his coat, pulling it on with a swift move of each arm. Before he could leave, Patton spoke in a low, even voice.
“Janus,” Patton said, a startling use of his first name that made Dee pause. “Janus… if you were just looking for a little fun on the side… don’t string him along.” Dee said nothing. Patton went on, “He’s been through enough.”
Patton slid down on the sofa, settling himself in for a good nap. “If you’re gonna stick around, then stick around. Stop dancing around the outside.”
Dee’s lips twitched with the suggestion of a smile. “You’re making me sound like a flake.”
“Am I wrong?”
“Maybe,” Dee said softly. “Probably.”
Patton yawned and threw an arm over his eyes. “I’m just saying… don’t play games. If you try to play that boy, he’ll hit you harder than a croquet mallet to the head.”
Dee stopped and stared at the far wall. “That’s… a vivid image.” Patton hummed, but didn’t move. Dee smiled… and put his hand on the doorknob. “I hear what you’re saying… and I’ll take it serious.” Another hum. Dee shook his head fondly. “But like I said, a man in my… line of business… has to be careful about letting people in.”
“I know,” Patton’s voice was barely a whisper.
Dee gripped the doorknob. “I’ll talk to him.” Patton hummed once more, and Dee sighed. “Alright. I’m going to make sure you have a steady supply of liquor.”
“And Remus,” Patton said, “And Remus…”
Dee quirked an eyebrow. “Sure, I’ll take him along.”
Patton twitched and made a confused noise. “Wha—bring him along?”
“Wait,” Patton started to get up, dizzy and still uncoordinated as he reached for the table to steady himself. “W-wait a minute!”
“You’re drunk,” Dee said with a smile. Patton was still reeling. Good. He couldn’t chase after them. Dee stepped outside the office and called behind him: “Sleep it off!”
When the door was closed, Dee smiled to himself. If he played games… Remus would hit him like a croquette mallet to the head, would he? It sounded like there was a history there. Something happened to Remus… and Dee was more than a little curious to see what that history was. Maybe a past lover used him. Or lied to him. It wasn’t a good history.
‘Don’t play games’ Patton said. ‘Don’t string him along.’
Dee had no intention of doing either. He was enjoying what he saw of Remus. The flirtatiousness, the singing, the wild, wicked glimmer in his eyes… he was a new breed to Dee. And he was endlessly amused. He wanted to see him again. He wanted to see him again. Every waking moment, every spare second he had, he was thinking of the bar, of that stage, of that one damn man, up there on a stage that was too small and singing songs too big for his lungs. Shining like gold. Dripping with sweat and gin. Dee wanted to put him in a bottle and shake him hard, just so he could save that taste for another sip, sometime later.
Playing games? No, no… Dee wasn’t going to play games. Dee was going to invest whatever it took to get Patton back on his feet… and Remus back on a stage that fit him. Anyone else that benefited was just gravy. But it was something that troubled Dee. This interest. This desire. It was dangerous for anyone to get close to someone like him. He was getting attached… and that wasn’t always a good thing.
Still. Remus was a big boy. He could make his own choices. And if that choice involved him going with Dee on a little ‘errand,’ well… that wouldn’t bother him even a little bit. So he adjusted his hat on his head with a smile as he wandered away from the office. Past Virgil who watched him carefully, past the stage that was devoid of Remus and Roman, and through the maze of tables and chairs of faces he knew well. He’d have to start dropping the name of The Patron to big clients. More people would come. More people meant more money. More money meant better lights on that stage that Remus loved so much. Dee sighed inwardly; he really was smitten.
He was already itching to get his hands on Remus. Two weeks was a lifetime when it came to being away from him. Had anything changed? Had he moved on? Had he gotten the eye of someone bigger and meaner? That was unlikely. Dee practically ran Chicago. Still… that didn’t make the anticipation go away. He thought some space would help it. To make the burning desire to drag Remus back home to his bed just simmer down a bit… but he still wanted him. Maybe he always would. It remained to be seen. It was attraction. It wasn’t love.
Across the club, Remus smoothed a hand over his makeup-smudged vanity table. Brushes and paints and powders were on display, and many different kiss marks were starting to appear on his mirror each night. It was a sign that his girls were back, and he was happier for it… but also a little miffed.
The band was back. The girls were back. They were putting on good shows and patrons – where the hell had they all been hiding? – were starting to crawl out of the woodwork and back into the bar. That meant a steady stream of income… that also meant they were given their paychecks on time, though they were still missing a chunk of earnings. Patton was scrambling, trying to make things come together as more and more “things” made their way into The Patron.
During the day, the floors were redone. Another week, and the interior of the bar was painted. A few more days, and the stage had been redone. Remus knew this was all Dee’s doing, but he wasn’t sure exactly how he was getting all of this done. Fat pockets were one thing… Dee seemed to have everyone in the city at his beck and call. And he was helping Patton, so that was all well and good… but still.
He hadn’t come back to the bar since the night he promised the band was theirs.
Remus dug into his pockets and huffed. “Maybe I did something wrong.”
Roman leaned back in his chair and blew smoke up at the ceiling. “You do a lotta things wrong, Rem. Gonna have to be more specific.”
With a shaky hand, Remus took out a pack of cigarettes and fiddled with his lighter, struggling to catch the light and breathe in the smoke. Roman watched this with a hardly interested glance. Once he was able to light the cig, he took a deep breath, frowned, and sighed out the smoke. He spoke with a growl in the back of his voice. “It’s been two weeks since Dee was here.”
Roman blew a smoke ring. “Sssso?”
“He said he was gonna make me a star or some bullshit. Said he’d make me fall for him.”
Roman sat up a little to look at Remus. “And you believed that?”
“No!” Remus said quickly. Maybe a little too quickly. The word didn’t have a lot of weight to it. “I mean… ‘course I didn’t believe it… but it was. Nice.”
“Nice,” Roman repeated.
“Felt… different. The way he talked to me.”
“Different,” Roman echoed again.
“Shut up,” Remus snapped, “You don’t get how this works. I’m not falling for every dandy that looks at me. I’m not trippin’ over myself get involved with any ol’ mug… you’re different because you’re happy to be between anyone’s legs as long as they say the three magic words.”
Roman blinked slowly. “’I’ve got money.’”
Remus snorted. “’Hold my wallet.’”
Roman nodded sternly. “’Don’t get cocky.’”
“Ooh,” Remus giggled. “I like that one.” He smoked a bit, clouding the dressing room while the band outside played loud and proud. It was halfway through the night and he already felt tired. There were people in the bar… and that was nice. But the famed Mr. Dee hadn’t shown up for a fortnight and that was driving Remus insane. He crushed his cigarette on the vanity and huffed. “Ya know… I was always down for a tumble and I thought that’s what he was gonna be. A good round with him in bed, and I woulda been satisfied.”
Roman made a face and leaned back in his chair. “You’re never satisfied.”
“You’re one to talk.”
There was a minute of quiet where Remus simply stewed at his mirror, looking at his reflection like it had wronged him. Bronze skin shined in the lights of the vanity and Remus’s green eyes looked hot with fire. “He didn’t even take me back to his place.”
“Maybe he wasn’t interested.”
“But he kissed me back,” Remus said, almost to himself. It’s like he’d forgotten that Roman was in the room with him. His eyes stared through the mirror and back, like he was trying to pin down some sort of flaw. Like he was trying to figure out what turned Dee off. Roman said nothing, and Remus grumbled to himself, “If he wasn’t interested, why do all that? Why say all that? He kissed me and said all that shit… was he screwing with me?” Remus glared at the vanity. “I don’t like it. When people screw with me. I’ve had enough of that with the others.”
There was a bitterness in Remus’s tone, like he was impatient and itching for something stronger than a cigarette. Roman knew the feeling; they all had their vices. Remus had powder. Roman had sex. No man was perfect, but Remus… Remus was an island. He wasn’t hungry for someone to hold him close in the dark hours of the night. He was content with a good roll in the hay and a goodbye right after. He wasn’t like Roman.
Maybe that’s why they worked together so well. Maybe that’s why they loved to hate one another and vice versa. One man’s trash is another man’s sibling. Roman sat up and crushed his own cigarette.
“What’s that old saying? If you love something, let it go?”
Remus looked at him. “I don’t love him. I just wanted a good tumble – just to take the edge off – and then maybe take a lil’ green from his wallet.”
Roman shrugged. “So you just wanna rob him. Why him? Does it have to be him? Go find another fat cat.”
Remus curled the ends of his mustache as he thought for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“You… you don’t know. Remus. Remus, look at me.” He did, and Roman gave him a disbelieving look. “You were always the wild one. I’m the soft twin. I’m the one that gets mushy. What the hell are you playing at?”
“I’m not a stereotype on a stage, Roman,” Remus pushed out of his chair harsh enough to make the wood scrape on the flooring. Roman winced, but Remus didn’t care. “Yeah! I’m wild! Yeah, I like doing things that push the envelope! Yeah, I do things in bed that would make even you blush. But… I don’t know.” He paused, and his mustache twitched as he thought. “There was somethin’ to him, Roman. Somethin’ that… I dunno. I wanna unzip his skin and poke around in there. Just to see what the hell he’s got going on.”
“He’s got secrets.”
Roman raised an eyebrow. “Don’t we all?”
Remus looked at him for a long while; the cut of Roman’s red vest and his feet kicked up on one of the chairs. Relaxed and refined… but so damn fidgety. He couldn’t it still. There was an odd shine in his eyes. Different from when Remus smoked cocaine. He wanted something. Probably attention from Logan. Could someone be addicted to affirmations? Probably. Maybe. Remus didn’t care.
Maybe that was the problem. Remus had spent so much of his life not caring. Stab them, go there, steal this… it was survival. When your prayer mat had been ripped out from beneath you at the age of six, you learned that it was eat or be eaten. So he didn’t care what it took to live. He just… did things and that was that. No need to get attached to the doing or the things themselves.
Roman got attached. Dammit, he got attached so easily, it was like pulling teeth when it came to yanking him away from the wrong mob boss (the one that was going bankrupt) and placing him, ever-so-delicately, in front of the right one (the one with money to spare). Roman said they loved him. Roman aside they made him happy. But did they? No one could be happy with nothing to eat. So it was on Remus to earn food.
Go there, screw them, steal that… and Remus didn’t have an issue with it. It was just business. It was life as usual, as far as he was concerned. And then Patton found them on the street. It was slightly less stealing, and much less screwing… but there was music. And joy, and laughter… and something like a family. Something like what they’d lost, somewhere before they’d learned what reality was. And dammit, Remus was feeling things. Caring about shit that he didn’t really need to care about. Like men with big purses and sharp smiles with a scar that looked dangerous and eyes that looked even more so.
Gritting his teeth, Remus took a small bag of cocaine from his pocket and shook it into the glass of wine sitting on the vanity. Roman watched him warily.
“Don’t you think that’s a little… much?”
“Get off my ass, Roman. Don’t you have a song to be playing?”
Roman sat up a little. “Don’t you have a song to be singing?”
Remus stirred the mixture with a shaky hand and took a large drink. His head came down a little wobbly. “Fuck you.”
“Nah, fuck you.”
Remus stared at him. Roman stared back. With a sharp move, Remus chucked the glass at the wall behind Roman as hard as he could. It shattered on impact, and Roman swore and fell from his chair, his hands scrambling to cover his head. There, on the floor, Roman glanced back at the shards of glass before giving Remus a disbelieving look.
“All—Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with you? You that hard-up for the damn financer that you’re taking it out on the glass?”
Remus shook out his hands and growled, “I’m so damn jittery, Roman! I need something to do!”
Roman narrowed his eyes and grumbled, “So you toss a cup at me like some crazed mistress at a whore-hound’s place…?”
Remus went to snap something sharp in response, all shaky hands and twitching mustache. He was always like this when he had a little bit of that wine and cocaine mixture he made. Really, Roman was sure he was trying to invent a new type of coca-wine at this rate. What were people starting to call it? Coca… something. Either way, Remus was giving the creator a run for his money with how much he mixed the ingredients in his spare time. And it just made him all the shakier and more irritable.
But who was he to judge? They all had issues. Remus was just a little… louder than most. And roman had slowly but steadily learned to Deal with It. But throwing a glass at him? Roman wished it hadn’t been this unpredictable before. He wished this was just a one-off experience. It wasn’t. but he wished it was.
Before Roman could tell him to sit down and try having a smoke to calm down, someone knocked on the dressing room door. It couldn’t be the girls. They liked to slip into the room without so much as a ‘hello’ before they sat themselves down to drink, smoke, or refresh their makeup. No, this was someone else. Roman blinked and perked up; maybe it was Logan. Maybe he’d come back to the dressing room to get a little kinky between Roman and Remus’s performances. Roman could kick out Remus for the greater good of his love life, he was sure.
However, Remus was closer to the door, so he was the one to open it. Roman leaned to the side, hoping he could tilt himself at a certain angle so he could really get Logan’s attention… only to discover it wasn’t Logan. It was Mr. Dee, Patton’s walking wallet with a gun. Roman immediately drooped where he sat. He saw the way Dee leaned in the doorway of the dressing room, all casual and rich, like watching a drug deal through smoky glass.
“Hey songbird,” Dee put his hands in his pockets and smiled. “You look dizzy.”
Remus grinned and leaned on the opposite side of the door – still shaking his hands and looking a little too wide-eyed to be natural. “All the fat-cats like it when I’m dizzy. Keeps me loose.” He snorted a laugh, and Roman sank lower in his seat. “They love it.”
Dee, however, didn’t seem as amused by this. He looked a little confused. “Loose is fun, baby… but wouldn’t it be good to feel the good things?”
“Feel things?” Remus’s grin melted down into something vaguely irritated. “Feel them… nah, nah, buster. Those guys? I’m better off in the clouds.” He paused, then looked a little sharp when he said, “So where the hell have you been? You dropped off two weeks ago and we haven’t seen you since.”
The response was irritatingly calm. “I was working on my own business. Chicago ain’t gonna run itself, sweet thing. I’ve got to grease the wheels every so often.”
“Business, business,” Remus groaned where he leaned against the doorframe a little harder. “That’s all you ever do… when’re you gonna drop the waisted time and just do me?”
Dee quirked an eyebrow and didn’t lose his smile. Roman was ready to throw something at both of them. With a tired flick of his wrist, Roman checked his watch, rolled his eyes, and said, “We’ve got a show in fifteen, Mac. If you came here to blow steam, let’s get it over with. We’ve got other things to do.”
“Other things.” Dee repeated flatly. Remus looked ready to devour him. That would be poorly placed in the doorway. There was hardly a beat of thought before Dee snapped his fingers and leaned toward Remus. “Come on an errand with me, doll. Bet we could put those shaky hands to use.”
Roman sat up. An errand? “Hey. We have a show. You got cotton in your ears, or are you just acting stupid on purpose?”
Remus gave Roman a glare over his shoulder, but Dee didn’t need protection. He tilted his chin ever so slightly with that powerful, knowing smile. “Ah, ah… that’s no way to talk to Patton’s benefactor. You’ve got me to thank for your paycheck, after all.”
Roman opened his mouth to snap something – he wasn’t sure what, but it was going to be scathing – but Remus cut him off. “So! An ‘errand,’ huh? You gonna put my hands to use?” He snaked his hands around Dee’s waist, his fingers skittering over his belt like hungry, coke-fueled spiders. “I bet you can find a good use for ‘em.”
“For an errand, kitten. I wanted to see if you’d like to tag along.”
“Kitten?” Remus repeated, practically ready to shatter himself with how hard he was vibrating in place. “That’s a new one!” He took Dee’s hat and placed it on his own head. “Lead the way, tiger. I want to see this errand of yours.”
“Remus!” Roman scrambled of out his chair, gesturing out at the bar with confused irritation. “We have a show!”
Remus glanced at him, then at the stage, and then shrugged. “Let Scarlet take the lead. You know she can do the best growl of the girls.”
“That’s not the point! You’re supposed to be the main attraction. That’s what we’re here for.” Really, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Roman wasn’t sure why he was so upset. Was it because Remus was leaving him behind? Was it because he didn’t trust Dee? It could be both. Things never went right when the two of them were separated. They each got hurt when they were alone. It was best to stay together. They couldn’t do that if Remus was off doing god knows what and god knows who. He took Remus’s elbow and held him there in the doorway, disapproving and sticking to the dim light of the dressing room. “We had a deal, Remus.”
To stick together. They agreed when they were young. They’d both gone back on that deal so many times, it made no sense to bring it up again. Like relying on faulty wiring to support the stage lights; it wasn’t logical. Still, he tried. He’d been hurt when he trusted people too fast. Remus had been hurt when he didn’t care enough. And now… now what was this? He wasn’t sure. But Remus took his hand from his elbow… and pushed him back into the dressing room.
“Let Scarlet sing!” He said with a wicked grin. Dee was putting an arm around him. Dee was leading him away. Roman needed to say something. To do something. Something to make him stay. But what? What could he say that would be more enticing than a good time with a man that had money? Remus laughed and waved over his shoulder. “Relax, Ro. We’re allowed to take breaks. I’ll be back!”
The door of the dressing room creaked shut. And it left Roman in the dark.
Remus didn’t mind it though. He walked with his arm in Dee’s with a smile, happy to sneer at any patron that looked at him sideways. Dee was one of those cool types; he was the smooth operator, dramatic but with a saucy twist. Remus had to wonder… did that composure follow him all the way to bed? Or was he a mess? Was that why he hadn’t seen him in so long? Remus smiled and tried to sneak a hand into Dee’s back pocket. No wallet. He’d keep looking.
“Where you taking me, hmm? Gonna walk me up and down the streets till we find a nice secluded spot?”
Dee quirked an eyebrow and took him to the door. Logan was there, looking dark and stoic as they exited… but he didn’t say a word. Remus smiled and curled the end of his mustache; Dee must’ve gotten to him. He had that way about him. It must have driven Logan crazy. Dee’s words broke Remus out of his thoughts and brought him back to reality.
“I wasn’t lying when I said I had an errand. You’re going to help me.”
Remus practically bounced as they walked. The wine was doing its job and keeping his feet on the ground… but the cocaine was still shining through. All angles were a little too sharp. His heartbeat still sounded too loud in his ears. And through it all, he could feel every fiber of Dee’s jacket sleeve under his fingers. He smiled.
“How? Do I get a gun?”
Dee chuckled and walked them out onto the main street. He had a car there, sleek and black and expensive. Remus felt hot under the collar.
“You get to watch, baby. I just need someone to stand as backup.”
Remus deflated a little. “You just need someone to help you look tough? Where’s the fun? The pizzazz? The showmanship?”
Dee pulled open the driver side door and look at Remus. “You think threatening people needs showmanship?”
“Oh. Oh, you never said we’d be threatening!” Remus scuttled over to the other side of the car and climbed in. “Let’s hit the road, Jack! I wanna see this before I crash!”
There was a pause, then a smile, and Dee got into the car and started the engine. It growled to life like a beast and Remus was snickering. He was excited. Dee had never extended this kind of invitation to someone outside The Family Business. His work was normally private… but this was different. This was more of a spot-clean operation for Patton. So… maybe stepping outside his comfort zone was okay… just this once.
It would be more than once. It would be many more times, not that Dee knew it yet.
They drove through the city in a smooth ride. Dee noted that Remus liked to lean out the window and feel the wind. It stirred up the air and made him smile and laugh when they took a turn just a little too sharp. Dee took many unnecessary turns. But one could only drive so far before Remus got curious.
He slid back into his seat and turned to Dee with wild, windswept hair. “Where are we going, stud?”
Dee smiled and took another turn. “We’re going to drop by a supplier.”
“For booze, dollface. Your boss needs a steady supply and there’s too many weasels makin’ holes in the yard.”
Remus pinched the end of his mustache and curled it thoughtfully. “Right, right… let’s pretend I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Dee snickered and shook his head as he took off his hat and plopped it on Remus’s head. “It means we’re cutting down the competition. Alcohol is getting divvied up in a way that leaves Patty down and out. We’re gonna fix that.”
“Talking,” Dee said smoothly as he pulled over. The car was put into park in front of a large, brick building. A general goods store. Dee patted the inside pocket of his coat – his gun was there. Good. Remus noticed the gesture and his green eyes glowed in the pale-yellow light of the streetlamp just a half a block away. Dee smiled. “Sometimes talking involves a little… extra persuasion.”
“Mean, growly talking.”
Dee tapped the side of his nose. “Now you’re catchin’ on, baby.”
They exited the car calm and collected. As calm and collected as a mob boss and a buzzed lounge singer could be. The only lamp near them was distant, leaving the pavement outside the shop illuminated by the interior lights. The shop had big, big windows to display merchandise, and it gave Dee a good look of the counter toward the back. The shop was devoid of customers… and only the lamp by the register was lit up by a single lamp. Johnny, their target, was leaning against the tired, wood counter and staring at some papers with a bored expression. Dee smiled and turned to Remus.
“Alright, slick. Here’s the plan.” He reached up to artistically tiled the hat on Remus’s head to the side and straighten the lapels of his jacket. Remus bounced a little where he stood, eager for the details of their mission… but Dee just tilted him back and kissed him. Remus melted in his arms, nearly becoming dead weight as Dee held him up by his waist. When he pulled back, Remus was just as bright-eyed as before with that wicked smile. Dee smiled back. “Stick behind me. If things go south, get to the car.”
Remus’s eyes widened and his smile stayed. “South? What’re you gonna do?”
“Business, baby.” Dee stood him upright and lead him to the door. “We’re going to do business.”
He opened the shop door for Remus slow and casual, watching the way Remus stepped inside and looked around the interior as the bell above the doorframe jingled pleasantly. Behind the counter, Johnny sat up, saw Remus and frowned. He leaned forward to make sure his ‘Whites Only’ sign was still up on the shelf. It was. But neither Remus nor Dee cared. Of course, when Dee walked through the door, Johnny didn’t dare to say anything about the Persian that Dee had brought inside.
That would be like signing a death warrant.
Dee closed the door, hearing the bell ring once more as he put his hands into his pockets and smiled thinly. “Hey, Johnny. Long time no see.”
Remus was watching this interaction. He was intrigued. Curiosity killed the cat, but with Remus’s luck, death was just a minor inconvenience. Dee could see the way Johnny’s eyes flickered over to Remus more than once… before he finally met Dee’s eyes.
“Hey… hey, Mr. Dee.” Johnny was a nondescript man. Thin, but not talk. Brown hair, brown eyes… easy to get lost in a crowd. Easy to make him disappear with no one to notice. Dee smiled, watching the way Johnny fidgeted and startled. Johnny’s voice trembled. His hands and fingers tapped the counter, like he needed something to hold onto. Did he have a gun under the counter? Maybe. Dee would have to use his movements wisely. Johnny glanced at Remus again. “What ah… what brings you to this neck of the woods?”
Dee was casual as he walked around the interior of the store, eyeing breakable jars and canned goods on the shelves. Once, Johnny had been valuable intel on a rival mob. They hadn’t lasted long. Organized crime had a habit of being… well, organized, and getting rid of any challenges that arose. But now, Johnny had turned tail and started supplying valuable information to the wrong people. Maybe he didn’t know what he was doing. Maybe he did. Either way, it was detrimental to the bar, and Dee had to fix it.
“I’ve been hearing nasty rumors, Johnny,” he said after a long while of fake consideration. He peeked over at Remus, seeing the way Remus took some saltwater taffy and tucked it into his pocket. Dee had to smother a smile at that. He looked back to Johnny. “Nasty rumors about you.” Johnny made a face, like this was ridiculous. Dee went on. “Got some people sayin’ you’re working with some people that go against my interests.”
Johnny laughed. He laughed, hoping that would throw off Dee’s suspicion. Dee, to his credit, had been fed every line in the book before. So he smiled at Johnny. He chuckled a little, too. Just to make him comfortable. To make him think he was safe and sound.
Then, he said: “Rumors that you’re selling out a friend of mine. A man who runs a drum called The Patron… ever heard of it?”
The laughter stopped.
Johnny suddenly looked a little sick. Ah. He knew that he was going against The Patron. He knew what he was doing by giving the bootleggers access to his stores and equipment. He was actively helping someone… someone… smother Patton’s business. Dee’s eyes sharpened, and Johnny looked ready to fall on his knees.
However, he didn’t break. He was one of those ‘dig in your heels and lie until you can’t breathe’ types. Dee would’ve respected it if he weren’t so irritated.
“That’s...” Johnny paused, chewed his words, and shuffled uneasily behind the counter. “That’s just talk, Mr. Dee. You know how it is. Everyone’s out there, flappin’ their gums at anything. Just chatter.”
Dee hummed and nodded, as if this were valuable to him. He went to the counter, rested his hand on the wood, and didn’t smile. “Johnny,” he said, “Johnny… if you tell me who you’re giving this information to right now? Maybe I’ll let it slide. Maybe,” he said with a hint of empathy in the words, “Maybe… I won’t set my right-hand duo on your shop.”
Johnny swallowed thickly. “I don’t. I’m not—”
“Let’s not make it difficult, Johnny. I’m not here to break your shelves and burn your shit. Nah… that’s what Delia and Shanie are for. You know what they did to Carron’s shop down on Third? The empty husk of a building? Yeah… it would be a shame if that happened here.” He dipped his chin and raised his eyebrows. “Do I need to call them, Johnny? Do I need to tell them you’ve been… uncooperative?”
“No!” Johnny practically shuddered like a leaf in the wind, shaking his head wildly. “No, you… you don’t need to call them. I just…” he looked around, like there was some sort of weapon he could improvise to save himself. Dee took a slow step back and Johnny didn’t notice. “It’s… you don’t know the kinda stress I’ve been under. It’s been a rough couple of months!”
Dee blinked slowly. “It’s been a rough year for The Patron. Try again, Johnny.”
“Look, alright? They said that if I gave them the locations of the liquor caches and names of the suppliers, then they’d leave my place alone. They’d give me protection!”
Now that was irritating. Dee’s expression darkened. “You already got protection, Johnny. From me. These excuses are getting a little weak.”
“It’s different, Mr. Dee!” Johnny looked ready to faint with the way he shivered and huffed and puffed. A sheen of sweat was starting to pop up along his brow, and his eyes darted around the shop, stopping on Remus more than once. “These people are dangerous! And now—”
That was the last straw. Dee stepped forward and slammed his hands on the counter. “Yeah? Well, dammit Johnny, I’m the dangerous one now! I run this city and you’re gonna tell me someone else is playing puppet master? I’m done with bullshit lines! Give me a name!”
Johnny stumbled back from the counter and lifted his hands. “I don’t know! I don’t know the name!”
Dee narrowed his eyes and curled his hands into firsts on the counter. “You mean to tell me… you’ve been giving out information… without any idea who you’re giving it to?”
He seemed to see the flaw in that logic and avoided eye contact. “I… I didn’t want… they looked dangerous, Mr. Dee. You didn’t see ‘em. All dark and angry… looked odd. Oriental or somethin’. Probably come around—”
“Shut. Up.” Dee shook his head and stepped back. “You’re all bothered because they were Asian, Johnny? My family is from Italy. Anyone can be dangerous.”
“Yeah, I know that!” Johnny said, quick to try to defend himself. It wasn’t working very well, but he was trying anyway. “I don’t need you telling me that! I’m not stupid!”
Dee gave him an unimpressed look. “Sure you’re not, Johnny. Just like I’m not a crime boss. And Remus back there ain’t beautiful.”
Remus piped up. “Hey!” A pause, and then, “Oh, wait…”
Johnny glowered. “Really, I don’t have any names. I can’t tell you who I gave the info to… so you can take that fucking brown man outta here so I can close up my damn shop—”
Dee paused. He looked at Johnny. The way he said ‘brown man’ with such distain. The way he looked at Remus. Dangerous and distasteful. He knew something… but he wanted them to leave. Maybe because of his prejudices. Maybe because he was scared. Dee didn’t care either way.
He pulled out his gun and pointed it at Johnny.
Johnny, of course, fell back and raised his hands, sputtering and shaking as his eyes went wide and terrified. “Wha—wait! Wait, wait, I don’t know anything, I really—”
“Can it, Johnny!” Dee lowered his chin and narrowed his eyes. “I’m real irritated and ready to put a bullet in somethin’… so putting down this gun will take effort.”
Johnny looked around behind the counter frantically. There was no way for him to escape. He looked at Dee helplessly, “C’mon, Dee! I really don’t—”
“You try to lie to me?” Dee asked, his voice raised and ringing off the walls. “You insult my and say this ‘other gang’ is dangerous, like I’m some small-time hood? And then you try to force us out, so you don’t have to deal with Remus being in your Whites Only bullshit?”
“Dee, I’m sorry, alright? I’m—”
“I’m getting’ real tired of empty apologies, Johnny.” Dee cocked the gun. “I don’t want to pull this trigger and you don’t want me to, either. But my trigger finger is itching.”
Dee was cold as he narrowed said, “Make me work for it, Johnny.”
“I don’t know!” Johnny shouted, loud and shaking as he hid his face behind his hands. “They came, they said they were lookin’ to make someone’s life a mess at The Patron, and they were willing to pay good money to get info on suppliers!”
Dee didn’t lower the gun. “Who’s life?”
Johnny peeked out from behind his fingers. “Wh… who?”
Dee gripped the gun a little harder. “Who are they trying to ruin, Johnny! Do I need to spell out every question?”
Johnny hid again. “I don’t know! They just said somebody! Somebody at The Patron!”
“You sure about that?”
“I swear!” Johnny was practically crying where he hid behind the counter. “I swear I don’t know!”
Dee wasn’t entirely convinced, but Johnny was ready to rattle himself to death with the way he shook and whimpered. Dee huffed. “What do you think, Remus?” There was a clatter from behind him – Remus was probably taking more taffy – and a curious hum. Dee turned back to see Remus standing by the door with a dark, pleased look on his face. The corner of Dee’s lips turned up with a smile. “Should we leave him be?”
Remus shrugged with that smile. “Hard to get more answers out of a dead man. Even if it’s fun to watch him squirm.”
Dee nodded and slowly put his gun back into his jacket. Johnny still shook, but relief flooded him like a tidal wave. He hit the back wall and slid to the floor like a shuddery, wide-eyed puddle. Dee let him sit there for a moment, then he leaned forward to tip the Whites Only sign off the shelf. Johnny startled and looked up at him, and Dee smiled sharply. “Next time they come around, maybe you should get a name. It would be a shame if I have to send Delia and Shanie over here to rearrange your inventory.”
Johnny nodded, a quick jerky movement where he sat on the floor. Dee turned his back, satisfied, and tucked Remus under his arm.
“Let’s blow this joint, songbird…” he paused by the door, letting Remus ring the little bell above the doorframe for a moment… then he pivoted to look at Johnny. “One more thing, Johnny?”
Behind the desk came a soft, quivering, “Yeah?”
“Don’t ever insult Remus again. Or I might get a little too friendly with my trigger finger.” Then, he led Remus out of the shop and out onto the pavement of a rainy, late night city.
He was right; someone was trying to ruin The Patron. They were making things difficult from all angles, fighting to keep away the liquor, the suppliers, and the people… Dee could speculate who was doing this. But it would all just be theory. Someone needed to be stopped. And badgering suppliers could only go so far. Dee sighed and dug in his pockets for a cigarette. He lit it, watching Remus saunter over to the car and lean his hip against the door.
Someone was trying to destroy The Patron… was it Lollie in all her success? The reunion a few weeks back as touching but looks could be deceiving. Lollie was a clever girl and a better actress. Was it someone from another bar? Dee could have them crushed with a few words to the right law enforcement, flushing them out of their illicit bar with ease. Or maybe it was a monopoly of bootleg liquor suppliers ready to wring out speakeasies for every penny they could get.
“Hey,” Remus said, snapping Dee out of his thoughts. Dee blinked and looked at him, a quirked eyebrow at the look Remus gave him. He pushed away from the car, took the hat from his head, and put it back on Dee’s head. He smiled, and that image would be burned into Dee’s eyes for the rest of his life. When he took the collar of Dee’s coat, Dee didn’t fight him. He held his cigarette away as Remus dragged him down into a slow, lazy kiss. Then Remus murmured against his lips: “Your place or mine?”
Dee smiled. “Thought you’d be all fired up because I haven’t been around, dollface.”
“Oh, believe me,” Remus grinned before he kissed Dee again for good measure. “Once you’ve had me, you’ll be comin’ back around for more. They always do.”
Dee didn’t know who ‘they’ were. And he didn’t really care. He threw away his cigarette, crushing it beneath his foot as he wrapped an arm around Remus and pulled him a little closer. They’d get in the car in just a moment. They would drive back to Dee’s house in a while. They’d stay there all night long, not bothering to sleep or explain where they had been when the next time came around and Patton demanded an explanation. Dee would give orders for Johnny’s shop to be put under surveillance and The Patron to be watched like a hawk. But that would come later.
Right now, Dee had Remus in his arms, ready to be taken apart piece by piece with that wicked, knowing smile. And that was all he cared to think about.
That took a while! But we're back and still snazzy.
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Chicago — February, 1922
Shouldering his way into Patton’s office, Roman was pleasantly surprised to see Patton scratching down numbers in a notebook. Payroll from the looks of it. Roman could saunter over to the desk and lean over to see what he’d be making easily, but Patton always got so fidgety when that happened. So he kicked the door shut behind him and dropped himself on Patton’s sofa with a smile.
Patton glanced up at him. “Where have you been?”
“Driving with Logan. Went down by the docks. Lovely scenery.”
Patton went back to his notebooks. “It’s pitch-black outside, pretty boy. Try again.”
Roman smiled and twirled a lock of hair around his finger. “Lookit you! Over there like a little busybody.” Patton chuckled and Roman enjoyed the sound. It had been too long since Patton really laughed and smiled. They had Virgil to thank for that, he was sure. He tilted his head coyly. “Do we need to get you one of those fancy adding machines?”
Patton spared him a smile before he went back to his numbers. “Not sure about that! I think I can manage adding a few little numbers. People need to get paid, Roman.”
“Speaking of paid… Logan and I found that cache that Dee dropped the line for.”
Now Patton’s hands stilled, and he looked up. “Gin?”
Patton made a face. “We need gin…”
“Lord, you’re giving me de ja vu, doll.” Patton stared at him, and Roman shrugged. “Virgil was saying the same thing.”
With fidgety hands, Patton sat back, pursed his lips, and then rocked forward again. He made a shooing motion with his hands and said, “Tell Virgil to go ahead and pick up the cache. I’ll see if we can make an easy trade…”
“You got it boss,” Roman stood up, stretched, and then snuck over to Patton’s desk. He peeked at the payroll, but only got a glimpse of a few zeros before Patton’s arm slammed over the pages.
“Go chase yourself, Roman. I’ve got work to do.”
“Ugh! You cats and your business,” Roman groaned melodramatically. He heard Patton pick up the receiver, and he reached across the desk, patting Patton’s breast pocket. He found a pack of cigarettes tucked away and eagerly took one, only to have Patton give him a sad, kicked-puppy look. Roman looked at him. “What? I went to the docks for you, Patty. Look what they did to my suit!”
He turned to show Patton the muddy back of his jacket, and Patton still stared at him. Roman grumbled “Fine,” and pulled out another cigarette. He lit it for Patton, too, holding it to his lips so he could take the first puff as he spun the rotary dial. When Patton was sitting back and comfortably, he sighed happily. Roman rolled his eyes and returned to the sofa, pulling his hat over his eyes and laying back.
“Wake me up when you’ve got marching orders, boss-man.” Patton giggled at that, and Roman snuggled into the well-loved sofa cushions. He could hear the snap and swing of jazz through the door, and it was a welcome lullaby. Patton leaned back in his old, creaky desk chair, and Roman sighed, “I swear, I’m gonna catch some sheep yet.”
Chicago —September 4th, 1921
Roman was halfway draped across Logan’s lap when he saw Remus scuttle into the club, clinging to the walls and tugging himself along as if he could hide himself from the patrons that filled the bar. Roman frowned where he had Logan backed up against the doorframe. Logan was still working at his neck, kissing that sweet spot that made Roman giggle and shiver… but now he was too distracted.
Don’t get him wrong, he loved Logan. Logan had that tough man look to him, but not in an outwardly violent way. No, he was more of a crisp danger. The kind of man that would cut you with his eyes if you so much as threatened to stain the carpet. But he was secretly soft under all that bluster and gun smoke, and he was absolutely wrapped around Roman’s finger. Normally that was enough to blot out the rest of the world. Not this time.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” Roman growled as he took Logan’s face and turned it toward the back of the club. Logan blinked hard, adjusting his glasses and making a face. His expression was dark and skeptical.
“’bout damn time. Think he’ll sing tonight?”
Roman grimaced and pressed a kiss to the corner of Logan’s mouth. “Doubt it. He’s been shifty ever since the crowds started comin’ back.”
Logan glanced at him. “And Mr. Dee—”
“Yeah.” Roman said. “Don’t like that, either.”
Logan’s fingers kneaded at the small of his back. “Well… what’re you going to do about it? Patton’s in charge, and if Patton says there’s not a problem—”
“Patton wouldn’t say there’s a problem unless the problem bit him in the ass.”
Logan quirked an eyebrow. “That’s fair.”
Roman sighed and peeled himself away from Logan. He was still riled up. Granted, it didn’t take much. Sex was a great distraction from anything and everything… and Logan was always willing to give him what he wanted. Enabling, some could say. Unhealthy, others could say. Roman didn’t pay attention to those dirty labels. Which was its own problem. But he didn’t care. He was watching his brother stumble and tumble to the dressing room.
He grimaced and dipped his hand into his pocket, pulling out a half-filled bottle. He held it up front of Logan’s face, shaking it a little while Logan blinked spastically and pulled back to look at it properly. “What the hell is—”
“We’ll see if I can get a straight answer out of him.”
Logan made another scrunched, confused face as he took the bottle, looked at it, and gave Roman a warning look. “Taking his cocaine might not be the best way to go about that.”
Roman kissed him again, and Logan leaned into it… but Roman stepped away too soon. “Say hot for me, stud. I’ll be back.”
Logan watched him go, those deep, dark eyes keeping close as Roman made his way through The Patron. He always tended to do that; watching Roman go through a bar full of angry, bitter people until he was in the safety of his dressing room. But even then, Roman felt itchy under the skin. Eager to go back to Logan and mess up his suit properly. He’d have to do that later.
For now, Roman slammed open the door to the dressing room and shouted: “Where the hell have you been?”
Remus jumped and pivoted where he stood in the dressing room, frozen like a deer in headlights. There were many different (better) ways of broaching his topic of conversation. But it had been a long time since they’d had a proper face-to-face, not-half-drunk, awake-and-aware conversation. He could’ve said ‘hello’ first. Or maybe taken out the accusatory tone in his words. But he didn’t. And now there they were, their eyes locked as Roman held Remus’s stash in his hand.
From the look on his face, Remus already knew that Roman had it. Silence stretched out between them. With a last-ditch attempt to get Remus to break the silence, Roman spread his arms, a vague ‘well?’ gesture in Remus’s direction. This gave Remus a good view of his hands, and Remus saw the bottle. Remus’s favorite wine with the cocaine in it. Remus quirked an eyebrow as if to say ‘what the hell is your problem?’ but Roman didn’t look fazed by it.
“Remus?” He prompted. Remus blinked sluggishly, and Roman slammed the door shut behind himself. “Where? Have you been?”
Remus shrugged off his coat and rolled his eyes. “I’ve been around.” He tossed the coat onto his chair and leaned over the vanity, looking at his reflection to avoid Roman’s eyes. “Keep up the yappin’, Ro. You’re really turning me on.”
Roman ignored that. “I haven’t seen you in literal months.”
Remus snorted. “You saw me last night, here at the bar.”
“You did one set. And then you took off. Where did you go?” Remus ignored him. “Remus. Where were you?”
With a sharp turn, Remus grabbed the closest bottle on the vanity and lobbed it in Roman’s direction. Some sort of liquid foundation for the girls. It hit the wall and shattered, leaving a large, pale smear on the wall, but Roman didn’t back down. He glared at Remus, meeting him head-on when Remus shouted: “None of your damn business! Christ—why the hell do you need to be in my pocket every damn minute? Go jump Logan if you’ve got so much free time!”
“Is it Dee? Were you with him?” Roman asked. Remus groaned and rolled his eyes.
“Again, with the being annoying…”
“Remus,” Roman snapped, refusing to drop it. Remus grumbled anyway, digging through the drawers of his vanity while Roman spoke. “Remus… we were supposed to be in this together. That was Patty’s deal, remember? Remember? Both of us on the stage. You singin’, me playin’ my horn… Remus?”
“I remember, Roman. Don’t gotta jabber-jaw me to death.”
“Then where the hell have you been? I thought Dee was all about puttin’ you on the stage, and I—”
“This ain’t about Dee!” Remus shouted as he turned on Roman. He saw the bottle in Roman’s hands and his eyes locked on it like he’d never seen it before. But he had, hadn’t he? His eyes had stuck to that bottle when he first came in. He was all over the place. He was itchy, deep under his skin. He stepped forward and made a mad swing for the bottle, but Roman stumbled back and away from him. Remus glowered. “Roman, if you’re fixin’ for a fight, you’ll get one. Give it.”
“What… what do you mean this ain’t about Dee?” Roman was still stuck on old topics. Remus had moved on. He wanted new things now. But Roman wasn’t on his wavelength, and that was exhausting. Roman’s brow furrowed. “I… you were going out with him, weren’t you? That’s where you were… all this time. Right?”
Remus huffed and lurched forward, trying to grab the coca-wine. He missed by a mile, stumbling into the wall and snarling: “Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t… what do you care?”
Roman stepped back with the bottle behind him, like he could hide the thing. He looked frustrated when he said, “Remus, you’re my brother. Even if I hate you, I care. I don’t get a choice.”
“Give me the bottle, Roman.”
Roman frowned, lifted the bottle, and threw it to the floor just to watch it break. Remus watched it for a moment, his hands shaking and eyes wide… before he launched himself at Roman. He didn’t get far, even with kicking and scratching and biting, people had heard the crashing in the dressing room. Logan came barging in just as Remus got a fistful of Roman’s hair, and in moments, the two were separated.
“I’ll rip off your face!” Remus screeched as Logan grabbed him under the arms and towed him away with little effort. He still kicked though, finding a little satisfaction when he saw Roman’s eye starting to go red around the edges and his bloodied lip. Roman glared, and Remus glared right back. “You don’t take a mans coke, Roman! Not even your brother! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!”
“Remus!” Patton’s voice cracked through the air, and Remus felt his voice go rigid in Logan’s arms. His head swiveled dizzily, and he saw Patton standing among the empty tables. The customers had somehow made themselves scarce. Unless... unless the bar was closed? No, it was open. Remus swore he heard music… Patton’s words broke through the haze. “My office. Now.”
Remus didn’t remember going to Patton’s office. The last few weeks were like that, too. Just a blur of colors and light and sound… and maybe a few tastes. Mostly the rush of things going by, like he was standing still while the world just… went on without him. Remus found himself sitting in front of Patton’s desk. Patton lit him a cigarette, and when Remus didn’t lean forward to claim it, Patton held it to his lips. He breathed in. The smoke felt good in his lungs and the held it for a moment. Then he breathed out.
A slow, steady calm worked itself through his nerves. Slow and deliberate. He took a few breaths, his fingers trembling as he took the cig from his lips and exhaled just as shakily. Patton sat on the corner of the desk. It brought back memories.
Memories of Patton, sitting on the corner of his desk, just a bit younger than he was now, but a whole lot wiser than Remus and Roman had ever been. He had that look on his face. That disappointed, sad twist that was too tormented to be angry. Remus remembered that look. Remus remembered the lectures. He remembered feeling… of all the damn things, he remembered feeling parented.
“Remus,” Patton said softly. “Tell me why I shouldn’t send you home right now.”
Remus fidgeted. He had forgotten to pay rent that month. That was fine. He’d managed to skim by and drop in on Dee ‘as a surprise’ a few times. Dee had loved it, if the scratch marks on Remus’s shoulders were any indication. But the rest of the time… he’d been forced to look for other forms of shelter and entertainment.
Patton waited. Remus shrugged loosely and took another shuddery drag of the cigarette.
“You want to send me home, Patty? Gonna ship me off like a bad little singer? Find me a replacement?”
“That’s not—” Patton stopped, took a breath, and sighed. He went around his desk and poured himself a drink. It sat in the palm of his hand as he said, “You know that’s not what I’m saying, kid. You know it’s not.”
Remus snorted. “Then whaddya want?”
“I want to know where you’ve been,” Patton said softly. “You’ve got the most beautiful voice, Remus. And Dee’s remade this place with your voice in mind. So… where did you go?”
A shrug. “Around.”
“Around Chicago. The real swanky places, Patty. You know me. Livin’ large in the goddamn Ritz.”
Patton sat back and took a sip of his drink. “You know… Dee dropped by the other night.” Remus’s heart leapt up to his throat. “He was asking about you. Says you haven’t been stopping by his place as often. And now…” Patton gestured in the direction of the dressing rooms across the club. “That little thing with Roman.”
Remus smoked. Deep breath in, shaky breath out. “Yeah.”
“You’re all kinds of jittery.”
Deep breath in. “Yeah.”
Patton leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk. “Son, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what the hell you’ve been doing.” Remus stared at the worn, chipped marks on the edge of Patton’s desk. He refused to meet his eye. Instead, he curled the end of his mustache while Patton sighed. “I ain’t about to drop a dime on you, Remus.”
Remus snorted a laugh. “That would make a fun jam.”
Patton smiled tightly. “But I’m not about to let you knock off your own brother.”
“Shame,” Remus breathed deep and sighed out smoke. “Would be nice to get him to shut up for a while.”
Patton’s expression went sad. “He’s worried about you. We’re all—”
“No you ain’t. You’re worried about the money.”
“What makes you say that?” Patton said, and before Remus could open his mouth to say something snappy, Patton said, “What makes you think I don’t care about you?”
Just like that, Remus was thrown back in time. It wasn’t a fond smile and sigh as he remembered… no, this was forceful. Like Patton had whacked him in the face with a wet sack, telling him to get his head out of his ass and start remembering things. And he did. It felt real. Like he was back there on that street corner all over again.
Chicago – The Autumn of 1912
They were on the streets.
This was nothing new. These days if you weren’t on the streets you were missing something. But people in Chicago were all worked up about something or other every single day, so being on the street, where the action was, wasn’t always the worst place to be. There were plenty of people to grift and, on occasion, many people to pickpocket.
That’s where Remus and Roman found themselves, fifteen years old and hawking strangers for change. Remus was a damn good singer (Roman knew he could hold his own) but people were always eager to overlook street performances. Especially when they were two boys with not-white skin. Still, Remus sang his heart out, looking a little breathless as he hit notes that would shatter glass in the right room. Roman played the horn that he snatched from an old pawn shop downtown, trying to back up his brother so they’d have enough money for food.
Sadly, though… it was slow-going.
The end of a song was rewarded with a nickel from a little girl. Her parents hadn’t seen her give it away, but Remus grinned and tipped his hat, watching the girl giggle and bounce back to her mother. She retreated, and so did the only spec of generosity in the city. Remus’s smile fell.
“How much is that?”
Roman stooped to pick up his hat. He shook it, and there was a sad, quiet clink. “Including the shiny bits we got an hour ago… 27 cents.”
Clicking his tongue, Remus looked around the street. Busy enough, but no one was willing to drop a penny. He frowned and dug in his pockets for a cigarette; it didn’t give him any results and he was landed with another sick, angry feeling in his stomach. He wanted to kick something, but he didn’t feel like going into the alley to break his foot when kicking the bins back there. So he stewed and festered like a second-degree burn.
Roman saved him, producing a cigarette from his own pocket, lighting it, and passing it to him. Remus sucked in the smoke gratefully before passing it back. He watched Roman smoke for a minute, then asked: “Where the hell did you get a light?”
Roman didn’t look at him. “From Mag.”
“The… the fuckin’ broker?” Roman didn’t look at him, but Remus continued to stare. “I thought you said his wife saw you leave last week. That one where you said you made a clean sneak.”
Roman shrugged and leaned back against the brickwork of the building behind him. “He liked my legs. I liked his wallet. We both win.”
Remus snorted and itched at his arm tiredly. “Bullshit. You really think he’s going to leave his wife.”
Now Roman got indignant. He turned to Remus with hurt eyes and clenched fists. “He will! He said he loves me, Remus.”
“Yeah. Sure. And I’m going to New York to be a famous singer.”
Remus looked at him and cooed: “Roman. Grow up. That jokester is just as likely to drop a dime on his embezzling as he is to leave his wife. You just get dizzy with the wrong people.”
Like Remus was anyone to talk. They were brothers and growing up on the street together meant developing a unit mentality when it came to the people they hung around with. It meant plenty of time looking at anyone who promised a meal and a bed. And if that meant spending the night doing whatever they wanted… well, that was their business. Remus didn’t pry. Neither did Roman. Because dealing with low-lives meant access to a warm place to sleep… and a warm wallet that was ripe for picking.
But if one of them came back to the other bloody and bruised, it was a simple fix. Move on.
That rule never really… stuck with Remus. He wasn’t very good at gauging where the line was. He was beaten by one, stuck in a closet by another, not allowed to leave the apartment with a different one, another got him into cocaine… there were many partners that would be deemed ‘no good’ by their ‘drag them and drop them’ routine. Roman usually had to come to his rescue for that. But Roman? Oh, Roman…
Roman just fell in love with anyone who promised that they would love him back.
Just as long as he did what they asked.
Remus was (sadly) the voice of reason for those things. And though Roman was fussy at the start, insisting that “It is real!” and “He wouldn’t use me as a scapegoat for his petty thievery!” But, when the cards were flipped and the real hand was shown, the bluff of his suitors broke like cheap plaster. And Roman was left picking up the pieces, crying over a mask that wasn’t even really a face to begin with. Remus cheered him up. Remus pulled him back to the streets.
And then they would sing. They would perform, trying to make enough money for a sandwich and a drink… and hopefully, they’d find shelter in the park for the night. But, more likely than not, Remus and Roman would themselves a new lug that would promise safety and warmth and money. It was a rinse and repeat situation.
“Hey, boys!” A man said from a few feet away on the sidewalk.
Roman and Remus looked at him oddly. He wasn’t tall, but he wasn’t short. He wore a light-colored suit and a hat that sat crooked on his head. Crooked enough to be fashionable… but it didn’t sit quite right. He was baby-faced and open with that bright smile and freckled cheeks. Round glasses and twinkly eyes to boot. Remus glanced at Roman; this guy looked like an easy, easy mark.
“What’s up, Mr. Goldbrick?”
The man laughed, but he wasn’t flattered. He gestured to Roman’s trumpet. “Truth is, I’m looking for some people to make a lil’ music at a joint I’ve just started. You any good?”
Roman scoffed and dropped his cigarette to the ground, crushing it under his heel as he snapped: “Depends if you’d make it worth our while.”
The man smiled and put his hands on his pockets. “I’ll buy you lunch for your trouble.”
Remus finally stood up straight. “No joke? No con?”
The man shrugged with that same damn smile. “Dazzle me, boys. Might even hire you if you wow me.”
Remus grinned and shrugged away from the wall. This man seemed a lot like their usual picks for company. He seemed… tame, though. One of those quiet and polite types. The kind that Roman would normally latch himself onto and not let go. But looks could be deceiving. For all Remus knew, the man could have a pair of bracelets hidden in his jacket pocket and he’d be none the wiser.
With a subtle turn, Remus murmured in Roman’s ear: “Whaddaya think?”
Roman fiddled with the valves of his trumpet, quietly inspecting the instrument as he mumbled back. “Dunno. He looks good for the money. If we get a free meal, I don’t care what crap he offers us.”
“He could put us on a big, shiny boat.”
Roman cracked a smile at that. “And send us where? Down the Mississippi?”
With a nudge of his elbow, Remus winked and smiled. “He could try to send us back east. Back home—”
“We were born in the States, you moron.”
“Doesn’t mean I’m not tired of everyone telling me to leave.”
Roman licked his lips and buzzed his mouthpiece. “He’s waiting, Remus. Pick a song.”
Remus juggled the air for a moment, running his hand back through his dark and loose curly hair while he thought. He came back down with a smile. “Give me somethin’ that swings.”
They would later name that song ‘Whistling on Main.’ But that would be a while later. When they had sheet music and other members in the band with them. With singers that hung on each note and line and sang with Remus like their lives depended on it. Roman would play with abandon and Remus would sing like he could light up the city with his voice.
And the man in his crisp, blue suit smiled like he’d just hit the jackpot.
He clapped when they were done, and they got themselves a quarter from a passerby for their effort. So the whole thing wasn’t a wash. At least they got something before the man closed the few feet of distance between them and shook their hands enthusiastically. Remus watched as Roman grasped Patton’s hands in both of his – there went the stranger's watch. The man didn’t even flinch.
“Amazing! Just amazing! I’ve never heard anything like that in my life!”
Remus nodded gravely. “Because whites don’t know a good jazz swing.” Roman elbowed him for that, but the man just laughed and blushed.
“You’re right about that. I couldn’t hold a tune on a trumpet if I had to.” He bounced a little where he stood, like he couldn’t quite hold still. When would that change? When would he lose that pep in his step? Two years? Three? Seven? The man grinned. “I’m Patton Moore. I’m starting up a bar and I think you two—” he pointed at Remus and Roman, “—would be a hell of a starting lineup.”
Remus stared at him. Was that a joke? He just waltzed up to two fifteen-year old’s on the street offering them a warm club to sing in? This Patton Moore guy seemed like the worst con he’d ever seen.
“Oh yeah?” Remus asked with a smile. “You gonna offer us nickels on a dime, pally?”
Patton winced and straightened his glasses. “Ah, well… how ‘bout we get something to eat, hmm? Sit down and work out the details.”
“Sure,” Roman said skeptically. He put his trumpet back into it’s case slowly. “Let me just… put everything together.”
“Great!” Patton smiled. He kept smiling. It was like he was a child in a candy store after his mother had given him a shiny nickel and told him to get whatever he wanted. Remus watched the attitude carefully; he was not on the menu for this man.
When Roman was all put together, Patton lead them down Main and around a few corners. Roman and Remus stayed close together. They wouldn't let themselves be separated and they wouldn't let themselves be taken to a sketchy place. But despite all the skepticism... Patton didn’t try to separate them. Nor did he take them anywhere sketchy. He took them to a little sandwich shop that was more of a hole-in-the-wall than a restaurant. There were no signs in the windows saying that they weren’t allowed, and Patton insisted they order whatever they want.
So Remus got himself three sandwiches and chips and a cola that looked like it could power a new steamer car… Roman got himself a normal sandwich and a basket of fries. Still, they sat with Patton and devoured their first free meal in a while. But they were still wary; there was no such thing as a free lunch after all.
Maybe Patton wanted them to do his dirty work in exchange for the meal. A quick smash and grab, a good petty theft. (Remus was good at the former, Roman was good at the latter.) And they waited for the shoe to drop… it just… never dropped.
Patton watched them eat for a moment before he sipped at his own coffee, added a few stirs of sugar and cream, and sipped again. “Alrighty, down to brass tacks…”
Roman and Remus looked up from their meals, glanced at one another, and then back to Patton.
“How’s it feel… for twenty-four dollars?”
Roman dropped a french-fry and Remus swore that half a potato chip was caught in his lung. While Remus coughed and gagged and wheezed – Patton’s constant “Are you alright? Are you okay?” echoing across the table – Roman leaned forward and tapped the tabletop.
“How man shows are you talking about? A few months? A year?”
Patton blinked owlishly. “I… I was thinking twenty-four dollars a week.”
Remus grappled for Roman’s shoulder and wheezed: “Twenty-four a week!”
“Of course, there’s always a chance the band could be tipped or paid to play a few tunes by regulars… that’ll have to be split between you and the band. But that can be worked out.”
Remus should Roman’s shoulder and squeaked: “Tips! Twenty-four plus tips!”
Roman glared at him. “Yeah, I heard him.” He looked at Patton. “So… what do you get out of this?”
Patton cocked his head to the side and smiled. “I get a main attraction? See… I used to work a joint with my sister, but…” his smile broke a fraction, but it was back and better in a moment. “Now I don’t and I want to start a place of my own.”
“Where we sing,” Remus reiterated. Patton nodded. “As your ‘main attraction.’” Another nod. Remus pursed his lips and held up a finger. “One moment.”
He picked up his chair, turned it around, and sat with his back to Patton. He gestured for Roman to do the same, despite Roman’s disbelieving and embarrassed stare. Patton giggled as they did this, but Remus didn’t care. He waited until Roman had his back to Patton so he could whisper to him.
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re being stupid.”
“No? Well. Maybe a little—but what about his deal?”
Roman grimaced. “Not… really sure. I feel like we’re being chiseled, and I don’t want to be taken for a ride by a guy who looks like he stepped out of the cleaners with soap behind his ears.”
Remus shrugged. “Maybe… but are we getting better offers?”
“Mag would sell you to a loan shark to get the boot out of his ass in a heartbeat, Roman.” Remus looked back at Patton. Patton had his chin in his hand, and he raised an eyebrow expectantly. Remus held up his finger again, and Patton nodded with that same, jolly smile. Remus looked at Roman again. “Roman… we’re fifteen.”
“I know that.”
“We’re not getting anything better out here.”
“Aside from the goddamn draft, so—”
“So just…” Remus pivoted so he was sitting in his chair backwards, his worn (stolen) jacket pulling at the shoulders as he looked at Patton and said: “We can do thirty-two a week.”
Roman gaped at him. “Thirty-two dollars?”
Patton pursed his lips and thought about this. “That’ll be at least a couple of tunes every night… a little longer on Fridays and Saturdays… later for the churchgoers on Sunday…” Patton rubbed his chin as he calculated, a thin line appearing in his brow as the thought. “I could do… twenty-four and a quarter.”
Patton narrowed his eyes, but he looked amused. “$24.65.”
Sitting back, Patton crossed his arms. “$25.20, final offer, boys. What’ll it be?”
Remus almost leapt over the table at the idea of that much money coming to them every week. They could pay for a room in a boarding house through the month. They could eat fresh food instead of rooting through dumpsters. They could probably even sleep backstage at the bar if Patton let them. “Deal!” He shouted, already reaching across the table while the other patrons of the shop startled and stared at him. Roman jumped out of his seat and grabbed Roman’s hand before Patton had a chance to shake it.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Roman hissed. He held Remus’s hand to the table (with Remus’s elbow in some ketchup, no less) and looked at Patton carefully. “Why us? You just saw us on the street and thought… ‘hey, those kids look shiny and new, might as well take them?’”
Patton adjusted his glasses and looked at Roman softly. “Yeah, alright… I’ve seen you boys before.” Roman and Remus both retracted from that, but Patton was quick to continue. “I heard rumors about some damn good singing… and some other things.” His eyes went sharp. “Things that, for anyone else, would put you boys in ice faster than you think.”
Stiffening, Remus tensed in preparation to run. Was this a trap? He looked to the door; it wasn’t being blocked. They could run if they were quick. It was an easy getaway... but still disheartening. For a moment, he thought they had a chance. He thought they had something promising going for them. Patton looked so soft and unassuming. Was that a lie? Just a façade? All the smiles and the compliments and the offers... maybe Patton was a master-manipulator. Maybe he was playing all the right tunes from the very moment they met.
Or… maybe he wasn’t.
The twins were not optimistic individuals. Not since their parents were lost and the streets were cruel and all the wasted time and the men that wasted them… there was just too much to be bitter about. Too much that made pessimism feel more like a safety net and less like a mindset.
But Patton had an air around him. One that felt… better than pessimism. Like the world could be theirs. Like they would be famous singers , no matter what color they were. Like their music was truly incredible. Like it was just a matter of going with Patton, and they would be cared for and valued and wanted, not tossed aside when the nightly drugs wore off and haze of alcohol lifted.
It felt like they’d be believed in, and Remus wasn’t sure what to do with that.
Patton sat back and Remus snapped out of his thoughts, looking at the way Patton’s eyes went down to the table as he sighed. “Now… this deal doesn’t come easy, boys. I have conditions.”
Roman gritted his teeth and balled his fist up in the back of Remus’s coat. “I knew it.”
Patton’s eyes flicked back up to them. “My bar isn’t a sex club. You boys are young, and you want to get frisky, I get it, I really do… but anything like that stayed outside my walls. Get it?”
They looked at each other. The words sure seemed simple enough. Remus glanced at him. “What else?”
Patton drummed his fingers on the table. “I’ve heard some nasty things about people finding things gone missing after they meet you.” He looked at Roman. “Can I have my watch back now?”
Roman blinked hard, looking more flabbergasted at the fact that he’d been caught earlier. It was even more impressive that Patton had known which of them took it… and then kept it to himself throughout the meal and into the conversation. Numbly, Roman reached into his pocket… and fished out a simple, silver wristwatch. Patton thanked him and put it back on his wrist.
“Right, now… if there’s any of that business going on, our deal is up.”
Remus snickered. “You’re banning pickpocketing? Next, you’re going to tell me that dipping into pockets is illegal.”
“Yeah, it is. And if you get pulled into hot water with the fuzz, then so is my bar. I’m not lookin’ for a scandal, boys. I’m looking for business.”
“Maybe you’re in the wrong business,” Remus said haughtily. He didn’t have a leg to stand on and Patton knew it, but Patton didn’t slam him for it. He just looked at Remus with eyes that almost looked pitying. Still, Remus rocked on his backwards chair and shrugged. “Gotta make a living somehow.”
“That’s what I’m offering, son,” Patton said.
Remus went stock-still. Son. Son? Patton called him son. Him, of all people. And he said it so casually, like he said it every day. The word sent shocks through Remus’s system and he wasn’t even sure what to say in response. He looked at Roman, seeing his brow knitted with confusion; neither knew what to say. Luckily, Patton wasn’t done.
He was gentle as he looked at Roman and Remus. “If my club pays you fair… you get a fighting chance. I’ve seen too many people… too many good kids… turned away just because they’re… a little different.” Maybe he was talking about them. Maybe he was talking about himself. They weren’t sure and Patton might not answer if they asked. He spoke once more: “So if you work for me, there won’t be a need for the other work you do.”
‘Work’ he called it. Like being lured in by older men and letting them take what they wanted before stealing whatever money or items they could. There wasn’t honor among thieves. There was just desperation, and that didn’t even come close to mocking honor. And this… this way out? Was that better? Turning their backs on what they were and going with this man they barely knew?
“Old habits die hard,” Remus said tightly, more from a caught throat than discomfort. Patton smiled.
“But I got my watch back! I call that promising.”
“Alright,” Roman immediately responded. Remus pivoted, looking at him sharply, only to see Roman was staring at Patton. “I… I think it’s good. I think we should go. I… I want to be a real performer.”
“I perform good enough already,” Remus said smugly as he leaned back and waggled his eyebrows. “If you know what I mean.”
Patton looked at him with this… odd look. One that made him feel like he was being scolded. One that made him look like he was somehow… disappointing Patton. Not like Patton was mad. Just… let down in some way. Remus hadn’t had someone look at him like that in a long time. Not since their mother and father were there, not since childhood, not since they were forced to grow up at the age of ten...
It had been a long time since someone had cared.
“First things first,” Patton said sharply. “You’re not talkin’ to my customers like that, young man. Not till you’re…” he gestured to Remus and Roman vaguely. “… older.”
Sitting back, Remus gave Patton a wide, wicked grin. “You got it, boss.”
Chicago —September 4th, 1921
The past came back with a vengeance and Remus had always been lousy at remembering the important bits. But he remembered the look on Patton’s face, one that hadn’t changed despite nine years of distance between the lectures. The words still rang the same, too. Same voice, same face, same big, sappy heart on his sleeve… Remus hated it. Remus loved it.
“Remember,” he said without conviction as he fumbled the cigarette between his fingers. “When… when we first started at your joint.”
Patton cocked his head to the side… and smiled. “I remember.”
Remus smiled, too. Just softly. “We were young. And stupid.”
“You’re still young,” Patton said. “And still stupid.”
“Ha! You flatter me, boss.” There was quiet for a moment, and Remus rushed his cigarette in the tray. “You would bring me in here when I was gettin’ too handsy with some big-man you didn’t like. You'd tell me... I didn’t know no better.”
“You didn’t,” Patton agreed readily. Then, he swung around his desk to pull out his ‘secret’ bottle of scotch. He poured himself a glass. “And then you’d tell me to mind my damn business. Remember that?”
“Yeah,” Remus breathed. Patton had been right, despite Remus’s wishes to the contrary. The people he looked to for attention weren’t good people. And they would chew him up and spit him out after a while. All of them burning and hurting and hateful and… Remus scrubbed a hand over his face, and Patton watched him.
“Remus,” he said, “Remus… what the hell are you doing?”
Remus snorted a single laugh. “I don’t know. I don’t have a fuckin clue.”
Patton sipped his scotch and watched Remus over the rim of the glass, his eyes evaluating through a thin haze of alcohol. Then, he set down the glass. “You know… I’ve been thinking. That wine you drink—”
He wasn’t able to finish his sentence before his office door slammed open and hit the wall. Dee stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the low light of the lounge and a red-orange haze that followed him like a grim reminder of his own power. He looked dangerous where he stood with a hot, glowing cigarette in his hand and a twisted smile on his face.
“Patty-cake. You won’t believe the trouble I'm getting when trying to keep your damn shipments moving. Who the hell did you piss off in this city to make things so—” he stopped, looked at Remus where he was hunched in his chair, and his face relaxed a little; he didn’t look happy, but he didn’t look sad. It was a strange limbo between them. “Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.”
Remus pivoted, wanting to say something, but he felt oddly drained. Like the high from his last coco-wine was starting to fade away, leaving him hollowed-out in the aftermath. He sighed. “Hey, big boy. Come to watch me get grilled?”
Dee pursed his lips and tilted his chin up a little. “Not really. But you’re a sight for sore eyes, songbird. Haven’t seen you lately.”
That made Patton look at Remus hard, but Remus ignored that heavy stare. Instead, he shrugged. “I’ve been around. You just missed me, Tiger.”
“Around," Dee repeated flatly.
“Figured you’d get bored of looking eventually.” Remus turned, shrugged, and kicked the bottom of Patton’s desk. “Now I’m here getting hounded by the Big Man when all I wanted was a damn drink…”
Patton didn’t seem to care about his muttering, choosing too look over Remus’s head at Dee. “Jan—Dee, what’re you talking about ‘trouble?’ I haven’t made anyone mad. Not… intentionally.” Patton paused, thinking about this while he made a face. “Aside from my Pops.”
Dee sauntered over the to the desk, leaned over Remus’s chair, and tapped his cigarette against the ashtray before leaning back. He smelled like musky cologne. Remus wanted to bury himself in that smell. Dee’s bedsheets had smelled like that, too. Why did he leave last time? To get another hit? It seemed like a waste now.
“I’ve got people picking off my shipments left and right. Ain’t seen anything like that since…” Dee paused, took a long dragon on his cigarette, and sighed through a lungful of smoke. “Hell, I’ve never had something like this happening. They aren’t taking my family business seriously.”
Remus grinned. “Bet that gets you hot and steamed, don’t it?”
Dee looked down at him and smiled one of those dark smiles that looked odd in the soft light of Patton’s office. Like he knew exactly what Remus wanted, and he was going to hold it just out of reach like a dog and a bone. Remus wanted to bite at the hand that fed him, just for the fun of it. But he’d been pulling himself away from Dee for the past few months. Dee was too smart not to notice.
Did he know that Remus was waiting for him to get disinterested? To realize that Remus could only do that twist and shout thing in bed when he had at least a few glasses of his coca-wine concoction? Remus scratched at his arms, going back to kicking Patton’s desk irritably.
Dee spoke, and his voice was strong. Sturdy. But also a strange kind of mellow, like the whole situation could fall apart and be a minor inconvenience. “I’ve got a couple of my boys lookin’ into it… sure you haven’t made any bad deals, Patty?”
Patton shook his head. “No? Not… that I know of.”
“You sure? No one you chipped a corner or knocked a block?”
Patton laughed at that, more strained than amused. “No… you know me, Dee. I couldn’t hurt anyone if I tried.”
Dee smiled thinly. “Of course you can’t. Keep tellin’ yourself that, Patton.” He looked down at Remus for a moment, then swiveled where he stood so he could lean his hip against the desk. Remus saw a bulge in his jacket; a gun. Maybe waving that at Roman would make him hand over the wine… “You still sulking, kitten?”
Remus’s eyes flicked up to Dee, a snarl hiding just behind his teeth. That was one of the nicknames he was amused by… but he was so irritable right now. Nothing was good. Nothing was fun. Patton took a sip of scotch at the sight.
“Careful,” he warned Dee, who only gave him an amused glance. “Sharp claws tonight.”
“Sharp claws every night,” Dee corrected him gently. Then his eyes went back to Remus. He smiled suavely. “What’s got your line all kinked, songbird? Why haven’t I seen you up on that pretty new stage I bought you?”
Remus smiled, but there wasn’t much in the expression. “Can’t get it up when I’m sober, baby. Ain’t you noticed? I’m better when the wheels are a little greased.”
Dee’s smile drooped a little, and Patton made a hissing sound that was half-frustrated and half-disappointed. Dee glanced back at him, and Patton made some sort of jumbled gesture that didn’t mean anything to Remus. After a deep breath, Dee ran the tip of his tongue over the front of his teeth and sighed. His eyes flicked back down to Remus.
“Going on tonight?”
Remus looked at Patton. Patton raised an eyebrow.
“Why’re you lookin’ at me, kid? It’s all in your attitude. But I’ve got a star trumpet player nursing a black eye and a bloody lip.” He looked at Remus. “He’s not playing tonight, Remus. And I don’t think he’d want to play for you. Not after that stunt.”
“Stunt?” Dee asked, then shook his head when Patton opened his mouth to explain. He stepped away from the desk and gestured for Remus to follow. “C’mon, songbird. We’ll go for a ride and I’ll take you home.”
Remus didn’t say anything about how he didn’t really have his own place anymore. The missed rent built up over the last few months and now he was sitting pretty on a pile of past-due notes and a trunk of his clothes that he had stashed under the woodwork of the stage. He could always ask Dee to drop him off at Roman and Logan’s place… but Roman probably didn’t want to see him. Remus… well, he honestly couldn’t blame him.
So he stood and ignored the way Patton watched him with worried eyes. Dee put a hand against the small of his back – that little touch sent nice shivers up his spine – and walked him to the door. They got through the club just fine, though one drunk at the table saw Remus and motioned for another patron to look at the man that was screaming death-threats twenty minutes earlier. No one bothered to look. A large collection of customers at The Patron were working for Dee, and they knew better than to stick their noses in their boss’s business. So they ignored Dee and Remus as they made their way to the door.
Or, more appropriately, to Logan.
They made it through the door when they saw him leaning against the back-alley brickwork. He was smoking, quiet and tense as he clouded the night air. He saw Remus, scowled, and threw his cigarette to the ground.
“Patton let you off easy. Just like that.” It wasn’t a question. He knew exactly what happened. “If any of the other singers were to pull what you did tonight, you know they’d have been kicked to curb, right?”
Remus glowered. “Thanks for the life lesson, Teach. I’ll keep it in mind next time I threaten to kill someone.”
Dee looked at him, considered, and then looked at Logan. “I’m takin’ him home for the night. Go watchdog the door instead of barking at us.” He smiled thinly. “Isn’t that your job?”
Logan crossed his strong arms over his chest; like that, he looked like he could rip someone in half, and they would thank him. “My job is to keep the bad sort out of the club. Didn’t think the place would rot from the inside.”
Remus snorted. “You think I’m rotten because I wanted a quick fix? Roman ain’t so different.”
Dee looked at him. “Hey. I didn’t bring you out here to start something. We’re leaving.”
“You think everyone else here is perfect?” Remus snapped, ignoring the way Dee grabbed a fistful of the back of his jacket, holding him in place. Remus leaned forward, pulling at the strain anyway. “Patton’s drunk every time he goes to his office, Roman can’t go three sets without having you backstage, and Virgil… god, what the hell does Virgil do with his spare time? He just blends into the shadows like a fuckin’ ink stain.”
“Remus,” Dee warned. It went unheeded.
“Everyone in this club is fucked, Logan. And you’re pissed at me because I couldn’t get my fix?”
Logan stepped forward, his voice deep and growling as he snapped back: “What do you want me to say, Remus? That you’re right? You’re not. Your logic is flawed.”
“The hell you know about logic?” Remus drawled sarcastically. Dee pulled him away before Logan could pick him up and shake him. Despite the tension, Logan’s words were still crisp and clear.
“Sure, maybe we’re all fucked. Sure, maybe we’re all goin’ about this the wrong way. But I’ll be damned if you think Patton getting dizzy in his office is the same as you shouting that you’ll kill your brother in the middle of the damned club over a bottle of wine!”
Remus opened his mouth to retort, but he felt the world lurch and go out of place. Dee had grabbed his arm and pulled him forcefully to the side, dragging him step by step away from Logan. There was a dangerous glower on his face, and when Remus looked at him, ready to demand an explanation, the words died.
He didn’t know what to say to a face like that.
“Shut up,” Dee growled. Remus blinked hard. He was out of words. Dee didn't seem to mind. He looked at Logan and snapped, “Go back to the wall, Logan. Do your job. We’re leaving.”
And Remus was dragged to the car, leaving Logan and his stewing, simmering temper behind. All these grabbing hands and growling words... it was a little reminiscent of the way he used to be treated by past lovers. All rough and crude and angry. Remus wasn’t sure he liked it. Dee was forceful in bed, but it was always in a fun way. But... this? This, with the fingers digging into his arm? The shouting? The look in his eyes? Remus didn’t like that. It stirred up the bad memories.
Luckily, the hold loosened when they neared Dee’s shiny car, and Remus heard something completely foreign: an unprompted apology.
“Sorry, dollface.” Dee opened the door for him and leaned against the frame for a moment. “Didn’t want a fistfight to break out.” There was a pause, and Dee really looked at him. There wasn’t any amusement there. Just a strange, discomforting worry. “You alright? You look like someone’s fixin’ to throw lead your way.”
Remus blinked and smoothed a hand through his hair. Then he curled the ends of his mustache, sprucing himself up before he could say: “How ‘bout now?”
Dee raised an eyebrow and smiled thinly. “You look gorgeous, baby. Always gorgeous.”
Remus got into the car and Dee followed. They drove quietly for a few minutes, and Remus could see that Dee wasn’t taking him to his old apartment building. He wasn’t even taking Remus back to his own place. He was deliberately driving them aimlessly through Chicago, slow and sleepy. Like a midnight ride to get out the last of the evening jitters. Remus sighed and sank a little in his seat.
“Your place or mine?” Dee asked. He knew better, but he asked anyway.
Remus looked out the window, seeing the sickly light of the streetlamps. They reflected on puddles in the street that were slick with oil and dirt. He blinked slowly. “Missed rent a few times. My place isn’t even my place anymore.”
He felt more than he saw Dee looking at him. “… you missed rent. Did Patton not pay you?”
“He paid me, big daddy. Don’t get twisted.”
There was a solid minute of quiet. Then, “Where did the money go.”
Remus didn’t answer.
“You could’ve asked me for help. Or stayed here.”
Again, Remus was quiet… then he said: “You didn’t have the cut that I like.” That was all the answer he had at his disposal. Dee didn't prompt for more.
They took a nice, slow turn and went across a bridge. Remus liked going across bridges in nice cars at night. Seeing the lights dancing on the water, the headlamps from the other cars shining bright and stinging his eyes. The bitter September wind through the open windows… Remus sighed and stuck his hand out the window, feeling the resistance and push of cold, Chicago air. Dee drove slow for him, taking his time until they pulled into the Uptown district with their tall buildings and taller construction sites.
There were bigger houses and bigger wallets all over this place, wreaking like old money and corrupt cigars. Remus looked at the big smokestacks in the distance and wondered if they were compensating for something. When Dee spoke again, it was almost startling. Remus had almost forgotten that he was in a car and going somewhere with him. Remus had to turn and look at him when Dee’s voice broke through the quiet.
“When I grabbed your arm,” he said, “You didn’t like that.”
Remus leaned his head against the window of the car. “No.”
Dee nodded. “Alright. Won’t do it again.”
And that was the end of the conversation. Remus waited for the eventual ‘I’m a monster, how can you stand to stay with me, I’ll be lonely when you go’ bit. But it didn’t come. Dee just shifted gears and drove them low and slow across the city. He had that stern, serious look on his face. The one that made his mouth set itself in a firm line and brow furrow. A good thinking face. Remus would rather loosen it up and make him smile, but after everything that happened already, he wasn’t’ sure he was ready to make anyone smile. Not even himself.
Dee pulled into his driveway and within a few minutes, they were inside the tall, dark structure of his home. Remus went wandering to the right wing of the house. The bedroom was that was, and it was the only room that he knew well enough to find in this two-story, twelve-bedroom monstrosity of a home. Dee followed him slowly, his hands in his pockets and posture relaxed as they walked. There were a few people standing in the main hall, both wearing heavy jackets and scowls. They looked like the muscle that Lollie had prowling outside her club, ready to punch out someone's lights if they looked at the place funny. Both of them watched Remus approach, though only one of them reached under their jacket to finger the gun under their arm. Dee didn't let them get farther than that; he them away, told them to take care of some business down on third, and they vanished down the hall. Remus kept going, shuffling until he found Dee’s bedroom. There, he peeled off his suit coat and shirt while he kicked off his shoes. He didn’t really see where they went. Somewhere behind the armoire. Then he fell onto the bed. Dee stood over him.
“You’ve had quite a night, doll.”
Remus rolled over onto his back too look at him. His legs hung over the edge of the bed and he kicked them tiredly as he said, “What’re you going to do about it?”
Dee shrugged loosely as he nudged Remus’s legs apart and stepped between them. Remus squeezed Dee’s hips between his knees, and Dee just smiled. “Your hands are shaky.”
Remus twitched and clenched his fists. “Haven’t had a fix in a while.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing.”
Remus frowned, sat up, and moved to get up… but Dee stopped him. He put a hand on Remus’s shoulder, didn’t squeeze, didn’t quite grab at him… but just holding him there. A solid weight giving him pause. He looked at Dee, hurt and angry, but Dee just looked at him coolly.
“You threatened to kill your brother,” Dee said stiffly. “Family means everything. ‘specially in my line of work. Cutting them out means cutting yourself off.” He paused. “I don’t think that’s what you need.”
“You don’t know what I need,” Remus snarled. “I just wanted a drink and he—”
“Was it the drink?” Dee asked, “Or what was in the drink?”
Feeling a hot, bubble of defensiveness burst in his chest, Remus stood and pushed Dee away. “Shut your mouth! You don’t know what I’ve been through! You don’t know what I need! When I say it makes me better, it makes me better! I can’t sing without it! I can’t be good in bed without it! So I just wanted a drink and he was—”
“What makes you think that?” Dee said, his voice so irritatingly level and calm. He had that way about him. The way he could just be relaxed when a crazy person was shouting at him. “You’re good right now, baby. Always have been. Now you’re just running yourself into the ground and screaming about how you can’t find dirt.”
“Shut up! You are just like Patton! Always tellin’ me I’m good enough and I’m smart enough! ‘No, Remus, you shouldn’t go with Dan because he’ll chain you to the bed again!’ ‘No, Remus, don’t let Robert take you to his club again, you’ll try to jump off another building!’ I’m a grown-ass adult and I can make my own choices!” Remus pointed at him and snarled: “And I don’t need no two-bit crime lord tellin’ me how to live my life! If I want some cocaine, I’ll get some cocaine!”
Throughout it all, Dee was aggressively neutral. His face didn’t change one fraction of an inch. Remus stood in front of him huffing and puffing, and Dee simply blinked and said:
“How’s that life treating you, songbird? How much life are you livin’ when you’ve got nowhere to stay and no money to feed your fix?”
Remus floundered, looking for words. None came. Everything felt jumbled. He wanted to pick something up. Maybe throw it, just to show he was serious. But no… that wouldn’t be smart. Would it? He wasn’t sure anymore. He scratched at his arms and growled, more to himself than anything else.
“You can get the stuff pretty easy, but if you need a lot, that cost adds up. Rent money, food money, drink money…” Dee ticked off the list on his fingers. “It’ll cost you your spot at The Patron – Patty can’t have a singer that can’t control himself on stage – and it’ll cost you Roman, if you decide to kill him…”
“I wasn’t actually gonna—”
“No, no, when you want you, you’ll do it. You know you can.” Dee looked at him, and those eyes saw right through him. “If you have enough in your system, you’d do it.”
Remus twitched, looked around, and struggled for a way out. “I…” he laughed, just once, “What the hell am I supposed to do? I feel like… it’s under my skin. Itching. Burning. Pulls at the hairs on the back of my neck and just… a good drink makes it… better. Makes it numb. You wanna take that away?” He asked helplessly. “Just… let it hurt? All the time?”
Now, Dee finally seemed to soften. He broke into a gentle smile as he stepped forward and took Remus’s face into his hands and kissed him. “We’ve all got our vices. But even silver bracelets can be snapped.”
Remus snorted. “Don’t razz me, big boy. You got a way to break me outta this?”
“Little bit at a time, songbird.” Dee kissed him again, and the itch was still there. The burn was still prevalent. But Remus focused on the feel of Dee’s calloused fingertips against his face and neck. The slide of his coat against Remus’s bare chest. And the whisper of sound when Remus sighed into his mouth. Dee kissed him again, and Remus let himself be held. “We can make it work.”
Remus pulled back to look at him with a wry smile. “You’ve got a bar to save, Mac.”
“In a bit,” Dee promised. “Right now I’ve got a songbird in my bed.”
Remus glanced back at the bed that was still a good three paces away from them. “No you don’t.”
Dee grabbed his hips and started to push him back. “I’m about to.”
When Remus’s knees hit the mattress and he fell back, all he could do was laugh.
You can find me on tumblr @ Misplaced-my-notes.
Feel free to say hi!
See you next chapter.
[shows up to 2021 late with a chapter]
Haha you know what they say about 2021!
It's... one more than 2020.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Chicago — February, 1922
The sky was dark and the steam from the storm-drains was light when Roman stepped out of The Patron that night. Virgil was waiting by his truck, flipping a pocketknife between his hands while he stared out through the alley like he expected the coppers to come screaming down the narrow lanes every other second. He was anxious and a good level of paranoid, but it wasn’t for no good reason. Breaking the law every day did that to a person. It made them jumpy.
Roman sighed melodramatically, making Virgil stiffen and startle. He looked in Roman’s direction, huffed, and rolled his eyes. The knife-juggling continued. “Comin’ out here wailin’ like a damn ghost…”
“I’m not wailing,” Roman corrected sourly. “I’m groaning. Big difference.”
Virgil tossed his knife high. “What did the boss say?”
“Something, something, something… go get the bourbon… something something…”
Virgil caught the knife and looked at him. “Cut the crap, Roman. Am I getting the shipment?”
“Relax, Mac! We’re all friends here.” Roman pushed his hands into his pockets and shrugged loosely. “Go ahead and pick up the shipment. Patton’s made some calls. Wonderland might have some gin.”
“Figures.” Virgil made a face at that, and Roman clicked his tongue and cooed.
“D’awww… not a fan of the Wonderland? Do the dames make you nervous?”
Virgil looked at him and if he hadn’t been planning on cutting Roman before, he was definitely planning on it now. “Knock it off before I knock you off.”
Pulling his keys from his pocket, Virgil pulled himself into his truck and started the ignition. The old thing rumbled to life, sputtering for a moment before it found its rhythm. Roman went to lean against the door with his elbow, looking through the open window at Virgil’s unhappy grimace.
“Lollie’s place is too bright,” Virgil said over the engine. Roman made a face, cupping a hand behind his ear and leaning toward the window like he hadn’t heard him. Virgil only cuffed him upside the head. “Go back to the stage, Roman. Some of us have work to do.”
Still, Roman didn’t go. Now he was curious. That was the thing, you see, about Virgil. He had a habit of being elusive and shifty when he was uncomfortable. Like the wrong words would mean he’d be caught in a lie. It only made Roman want to double-down.
“What’s got you all fired up, Mac? You have a bad one at Lollie’s? Someone nip something from your pocket?”
There was a solid ca-chunk as the truck was shifted into gear. Virgil didn’t look at him. “Her people in the back don’t like me.”
Roman snorted. “What did you do to Lollie’s hired muscle?”
Virgil didn’t look at him as he lifted his foot off the break and put it on the gas. “None of your damn business.”
The truck pulled away from underneath Roman and he stumbled back before the tires had a chance to kiss his toes. The headlights were dim and the interior of the truck was dimmer. Shrouded in black but for a good reason. Roman sighed, shoved his hands into his pockets, and spun on his heel. Back to the open door of the bar. He smiled; with luck, Logan was waiting for him inside.
Chicago — September 4th, 1921
The night was quiet in Remus’s absence. A quiet and routine evening of patrons shuffling up to the door, getting a careful but distant check from Logan, and filing inside to get drunk while the world continued to turn. Logan wasn’t mourning Remus’s time off, but the entire club seemed just a little less… vibrant without his energy on the stage. Not that Logan missed him. Not after the argument they just had. And then he had been whisked away by their new sponsor, Mr. Dee. Logan didn’t like that at all.
It was clear that Dee had a vision for The Patron; one that revolved almost entirely around Remus like he was the turkey on thanksgiving and the rest of the bar was just a platter of mashed potatoes. The man had an idea. And that was clear from the fresh paint, the new curtains, the band and the singers being brought back in… The Patron was now a place that offered a drink and a damn good show. And it was going to star Remus Kingsley. But Logan wasn’t pacified. He wasn’t pleased with Mr. Dee.
No smart man would be.
Logan was born in South Carolina. He had picked his way up north with nothing but the clothes on his back and a book in his pocket. He was smart. He was sharp. He knew that every person had a poker tell, and poker faces only held up until the pressure was just right. And he knew exactly what buttons to press. He was smart like that. Knowing how people tick was why Patton gave him this job. And Logan prided himself in that.
That being said, Logan wasn’t a slacker either. Everything in life he had, he earned. And what he earned, he got through strategy and practice of social laws and limits. Life was just an ornate, overly populated, twisted game of chess. And Logan wasn’t going to cut corners for simplicity. Simplicity wasn’t Logan’s game (Logan’s preferred game was strip poker with Roman).
And that wasn’t going to change. He wasn’t a simple man. Simplicity meant letting his guard down. Simplicity would mean giving in and accepting Mr. Dee’s charity. He wasn’t about to; not when all of his assistance with the bar didn’t add up.
He and Patton weren’t involved. The Patron wasn’t getting nearly enough profits to entertain Dee yet… so what was he playing at? Was he just rebuilding The Patron from the ground up to score points with Remus? Was he doing it all just to slap a “charity” label onto the face of his intricately organized mafia? Maybe. Probably. It could be any of those things.
But the bar was on its feet. Roman was happy to be on a stage more often, and Remus had been too… and then… Logan grimaced. And then an unexpected move. Knight to rook and Logan was all out of escape roots. It was more than irritating to know that people were so inexorably linked to chaos… but that’s what made them people. So Logan digressed.
His earlier point was still sound. Remus lashed out, attacking Roman in the bar, and then snapping at Logan outside the door… it was all unexpected. And it all resulted in a quiet evening at The Patron. This wasn’t exactly a bad thing. The people coming to The Patron weren’t there for the show, they were there for the drink. They weren’t big enough to be a hot spot for people looking for music and entertainment. Not yet.
So the crowds were steady, and Logan had a job to do, assessing people as they walked up to him, got his permission to enter, and politely tipped their heads as they passed. In the lapses between patrons, Logan lit himself a cigarette and smoked slow and tense. He wanted to puzzle out the whole situation, but certain open ends needed verbal confirmations from either Dee (unlikely) or Patton (more likely, but Patton was almost assuredly hiding away in his office).
He wasn’t even finished with his first cigarette of the evening when the door of the bar opened and Roman came slinking out, battered and bruised and looking ready for another fistfight. The black eye wasn’t boding well, though the darkness of his skin made it stand out a bit less, his eye was still swollen and his lip looked raw and tender with that cut… Logan grimaced at the sight.
Roman glowered at him. “Oh no, mac. Don’t sugarcoat it for me. How bad do I look?”
Logan took a long drag from his cigarette and didn’t break eye contact. It was like a stand-off with a bull. Or a stubborn mare. Logan wasn’t sure which fit in this instance.
“What? Now you’re shy? That ain’t like you, Gunsmoke.” Roman sidled up close. Too close for a man that was obviously still feeling the sting of a good sucker punch. Logan leaned back against the brickwork of the alley, and Roman leaned with him. “C’mon, tell me I look bad.”
Logan narrowed his eyes.
“Tell me didn’t deserve that punch.”
“You goaded him,” Logan said darkly, his cigarette dangling from his fingers as he looked down at Roman’s angry, green eyes. “You take a man’s vice and you should be ready for the kick-back.” Roman glowered, and Logan adjusted his glasses. “What did you want me to say, Roman?”
With impatient hands, Roman grasped at Logan’s belt and tugged. “You’re pissing me off.”
“You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”
Roman still had that dark look on his face; one torn with emotion that he wouldn’t – or couldn’t – deal with. So he did exactly what Remus said he was stuck doing: grabbing at Logan and hiding away from reality the only way he knew how. Logan didn’t want that to irritate him so much. He didn’t want it to bother him how routine this had become. How Roman was constantly, constantly asking for something. How he was reaching, grabbing, taking and Logan had always given without fail. Did he tire of it? Did he ever just… want to talk? Like people? Had they… Logan frowned. Had they spoken about anything other than the bar and getting hot and heavy backstage in the last year?
He couldn’t remember. That was more aggravating than disheartening.
“Blow off the door for a while,” Roman grumbled angrily. Logan blinked and looked at him, feeling another insistent tug at his belt. “We’ll blow off something a little more fun.”
Logan tore his eyes away from Roman’s split lip and stared at the open mouth of the alley. He took a slow drag in from his cigarette, a frustrating tightness in his chest as he exhaled. “Not sure I’m in the mood, Roman. After Remus and Dee acting like—”
“What the hell does mood have to do with it?” Roman snapped, forcefully taking Logan’s attention with the growling edge in his voice. “It’s just sex, Logan. It’s just supposed to make you feel good, and I’m pissed off, so—”
“Maybe I don’t want to.”
Roman stared at him for a fraction of a second, the emotion in his eyes spinning like a prize wheel that ranged from confused to depressed. The dial landed on betrayed and frustrated, and Roman pushed away from Logan and said: “What the hell is your problem?”
Logan smoked, fighting to keep a cool and distant expression on his face. “Like I said, I’m not in the mood. The entire bar is upside down and getting dizzy in the alley isn’t my idea of fun right now.”
“Oh, come on—”
“Why did you take Remus’s cocaine?” Logan asked sharply. It wasn’t going to solve the immediate question of ‘what the hell was going on,’ but it was better than nothing. Maybe he just wanted to have all the pieces of the puzzle. Maybe he just wanted to try to find proper motivation for the stupid things Roman did. Maybe he was just hoping they could talk like normal people.
Roman, however, took it as a personal attack. “Wha—he’s been skipping shows. Days and weeks between performances, and, and… and, he wasn’t even with Dee for it! And that pissed me off, so—”
“You took his cocaine,” Logan finished crisply.
Roman glowered at him. “Why shouldn’t I?” He asked. Logan didn’t have answer, and Roman seemed emboldened by that. “Why shouldn’t I? That shit has him pulled all over the place!”
Dark eyes flickered to the side. “I’ve got you pulled off the stage for songs at a time. Why doesn’t that piss you off?”
There was a long pause. One born more out of confusion than tense, angry stewing. Luckily, Roman had more than enough anger stored in his compact body, and he let out a little steam when he hissed: “What?”
Logan looked at him for a while. Roman and his beautifully mussed, curly hair. Roman with his vibrant green eyes. Roman who liked to sway and dance when he played his trumpet. Roman who… he used to make Logan laugh, once upon a time. When was the last time they laughed together? Just talking about something? Anything?
When he first started his work at the bar, Logan didn’t smile. He didn’t find joy in anything, not even when he was offered a job why a random white man on the sidewalk. And then… well, then Roman Kingsley waltzed into his life and started making bets with him. Bets on who would drink themselves under the table first, bets on who could catch a cop at the door first, bets on… bets on just the dumbest things. But they would bet. And one would lose. And sometimes… sometimes, it was enough to make Logan crack a smile. And Roman would smile back. And those smiles turned into laughter and the laughter turned into someone reaching for the other. And they met in the middle.
The meeting in the middle used to… to mean something, didn’t it? When did that change?
Logan stared at Roman. Roman and his bruised and cracked lip. Roman and his swollen, aching eye. Roman that had somehow taken things and wrung them out so much, it was left a strangled and empty parcel. He took a breath, held it for a second while he thought… and then he sighed.
“Do you still like playing at the bar?”
Roman blinked spastically. “What?”
“Do you still enjoy it? You used to be all about the music.”
“This isn’t about the band—”
“It is,” Logan insisted. “It is. You’re upset that Remus isn’t here, and you two were always about the music, so—”
“It was never about that!” Roman said. That was a lie. Or at least if felt like one with the way Roman was bristling defensively. “It’s the fact that my brother has been off doing god knows what and I thought I knew where he was, but I didn’t even—”
Logan’s brow furrowed. “So it’s not about the music.”
“Then why are you upset?”
Roman threw his hands into the air and stormed around in a little circle, like he could walk off the conversation. “Oh my god! Aren’t you listening?”
“I am!” Logan snapped. “You’re mad Remus wasn’t here, but if the music doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter that he wasn’t here for a show!”
Roman stopped circling and started sputtering like an old steamer car. “You—that’s—what in the ever-loving hell are you…”
“You’re angry that Remus drinks and misses shows, but you—”
All attention was back on Logan when Roman turned to look at him. “Careful what you say next, pal.”
“—you’re just as bad, dragging me backstage or into the dressing room.” Logan paused, giving it a moment to sink in, but Roman was quick and ready for a big fight. He opened his mouth, ready to bark and snap and argue himself into a corner, Logan didn’t give him the chance. “It’s every night, Roman! You can’t say you’re better than him because you’re not coated in powder!”
Reeling back a bit, Roman shook his head and struggled for words. “You—that—it’s different.”
“How is this different?” Logan threw his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it angrily. “Remus was right…”
Roman was stiff and still when he said: “What?”
Logan looked at him over the lenses of his glasses, appreciating the way the color of the bruises smudged without the glass to make things clear. “We’re just a bar full of misfit bastards.”
“If that wasn’t obvious,” Roman snorted. Logan wasn’t moved.
“Patton has his liquor. Remus has his cocaine wine. Virgil hides on the loading dock. And you…” he paused, scratching at his chin as he looked away, down toward the open entrance of the alley. The fog from late evening was bleeding into the air and creeping along the wet stone ground. Soon they’d be ankle-deep in it. Logan sighed. “And you.”
Roman’s voice was flat. “And me.”
With a bit of effort, Logan managed to take his eyes from the stone and turn them onto Roman. “When was the last time we talked?”
“We’re talking now, birdbrain.”
“You know that’s not what I’m talkin’ about!” Logan snapped. Roman rolled his eyes, and that only pissed Logan off. “Don’t get smart with me, canary. You might be some big hot-shot singer, but only one of us knows how to read.”
Roman’s eyes locked on him. “Jesus Christ, Logan. If that’s how you feel, then maybe we shouldn’t talk.”
Logan’s muscles seized for a moment, and he felt a bolt of… anger? Worry? Course through him. He didn’t let that stop him; if that’s how Roman felt, then maybe the next few minutes were inevitable.
Roman came close again, crowding Logan against the wall despite the way Logan frowned at him. “I think we’re very good at not talking.”
Logan gritted his teeth and groaned, “Fuck, Roman!”
“That’s the idea.”
“No!” Logan put a hand on Roman’s shoulder and shoved him back several steps. To his credit, Roman looked aptly surprised and irritated. Logan made sure to give him a few seconds to swallow the movement and the rejection. Just to let it sink in. So it meant something. “If you can’t go one minute without getting your rocks off with me, then that’s something you need to figure out.”
Roman snorted a laugh. “It’s not a problem—”
“I’m not some flapper, Roman! I ain’t some easy lay or a toy you get to play with!” Logan felt heat and frustration seep into the words. It had been building up for a while and he just hadn’t been aware of it… but he was mad. He was actually angry, and he wouldn’t have noticed unless Remus had pointed out the flaws in things. That only made the reality sting more. “I’m not just sex.”
“I never said you were, I just—”
“You sure as hell don’t act like it.”
“Go back inside, Roman.” Logan pushed away from the wall and pulled out another cigarette. He made sure to turn on Roman while he lit it, taking a long drag before breathing out a lungful of smoke. “I’ve got a job to do.”
There was a long moment of quiet. One where Logan smoked and glared at the opening of the alleyway. He almost wished that Roman would say something. Fight the statement. Fight for whatever it was they used to have. To say that he loved Logan, to say that he was simply trapped in his own head, that it wasn’t all about the sex… but he didn’t. He didn’t say anything.
It was like the last nail being put in the coffin.
“So that’s it?” Roman asked, breaking the silence in a way that was less than satisfying. Logan didn’t look at him. Instead, he put his spare hand in his jacket pocket and watched the alley. The fog spread thin, and Roman’s voice was more frustrated than resigned. “You say all that shit and… that’s it? Just go back inside?”
“You have something better to say?”
Roman hesitated, and it was clear from the catch in his voice. “Thought we were better than that.”
“So did I.”
“Ah.” Roman’s feet shuffled and his shoes scrabbled against uneven cobblestone. “So that’s it.”
Logan nodded to himself. “That’s it.”
The words were choked out by the fog, but it didn’t matter. The door to The Patron had already swung shut, leaving Logan by himself in the cool evening mist. Roman didn’t come back. He was probably too angry to come back. But that was probably fine. Probably. Most likely. Maybe. Logan sighed out a lungful of smoke, and it blended in with the drab air of the alley.
If he wasn’t willing to play the part, it seemed Roman was done with him. He had no use for words. No care to recall what they used to have. It was bitter, this decision. But Logan couldn’t find it in himself to be surprised. His icy eyes stayed locked on the alley, chasing the light of a far away streetlamp as he smoked. They were all screwed over. By the world, by time, by each other… the bar was being saved, but what good was that when their saving grace was a mobster and they were all falling apart? Logan didn’t know. He dropped his glowing cigarette on the ground. He stomped on it.
He didn’t look back at the door; he knew Roman wasn’t coming back out.
Patton jumped when his office door burst open and slammed against the wall. He scrambled to push himself up where he was lying on the sofa, but Roman didn’t mind it. He kicked the door shut behind himself, took Patton’s shoulder, and pushed him back against the cushions. There, he could clamber onto the sofa and curl himself into a little bruised ball, only half-sprawled in Patton’s lap.
And Patton was effectively pinned to the arm of the sofa, held by the dead weight of a brooding musician.
“Well, hi, Roman,” Patton said to himself, earning an angry huff from his interloper. “’course you can come in. Thanks for knocking.”
“Don’t get smart with me.”
Patton pursed his lips and tried to shift his legs to no avail. Roman had his lap occupied and Patton could only put an arm across the back of the sofa tiredly. “You came into my office, kiddo. Ain’t no better place to be smart.”
At that, Roman was quiet. He had his arms crossed and tucked close to his chest. Curled in on himself and glaring at the sofa cushions as hard as he could with his sore black eye. Patton watched him for a while, waiting for an explanation, but none came. Roman continued to stew.
In the meantime, Patton glanced at his desk; there were plenty of things marked as “Past Due” that would land him in hot water if any of his staff saw them. Would they bail if they saw how deep he was in debt? Would they demand compensation? Patton didn’t have any to give. The little bits and pieces they were making in earnings (thanks to Dee) were going straight back to his workers. Patton didn’t have anything to spare. Nothing left to give but his own skin. It made him twitchy and anxious to think that Roman was in his office when those damning papers were out on display.
It made him feel uneasy. A drink would soothe his nerves. But Roman was on his legs. No way to get up and get a glass… dilemma, dilemma.
“Ya know,” Patton started, trying to sound soft and soothing. “Ya know Remus didn’t mean it. All that stuff he was shouting. He couldn’t put you under any more than you could chip his block.” Roman grumbled, but it was more of a mouthful of consonants than actual words. Patton went on, casting a wistful glance at his desk. “And I know you’ve been missing him—”
“I have not.”
Patton ignored that. “—and I’m sure he missed you, too. Just in his own way. That’s what’s good about you two.”
“The fact that he was gone for a week?”
He made sure to heavy a weary sigh at that one. “No, pretty boy. The fact that you’re both a little different. Everyone’s got something that’s tuggin’ them in the wrong direction.” Another glance at his desk where his whiskey was hiding away, and Patton’s stomach twisted uncomfortably. But he didn’t stand up and send Roman to the floor. He stayed put, his fingers drumming against the back of the sofa restlessly as he spoke. “Maybe Dee will help Remus with his.”
“We’ve all got something?” Roman asked despite knowing the answer. Patton didn’t respond beyond a hum, and Roman didn’t shift where he lay. He kept glaring at the sofa cushions, but his next words were soft. “I don’t. I don’t have a problem.”
Patton made a garbled noise in the back of his throat. “Well. That’s… you know what I meant.” He made a vague gesture with one hand. “When I say ‘everybody’ I just mean… you know what I mean. I wasn’t saying you did, son.”
“I don’t have any problems.”
Patton adjusted his glasses tiredly. “I know, Roman.”
“I don’t care what Logan says!” Roman snapped, suddenly all fired up and ready to fight. Patton stared down at him, seeing the way his shoulders tensed and muscles clenched like he was getting ready to run… or maybe hit something. Patton hummed again, and Roman finally sat up to look him in the eye. “He said I was just all about the sex, but what’s wrong with that?”
Patton blinked. “S… what’s wrong with sex, or…?”
“So maybe I like getting busy!” Roman threw his hands into the air. “Nothing wrong with that!”
Taking advantage of his freedom, Patton slipped off the sofa and to his desk, sweeping the papers and bills into one of the bottom drawers. “Sure isn’t.”
Roman nodded to himself, like this was the affirmation he’d desperately needed. “So Logan is in the wrong!”
Patton looked up from where he was pouring himself a much-needed drink. “Haaa? About what?”
“Everything! Me! Him! All of it!”
“That’s a lot of things,” Patton murmured into his glass as he took a slow sip. Of course, this might make it seem as if he was removed from the situation. He really wasn’t; he cared about Roman. He wanted to know what was bothering him. However, he also knew that Roman was theatric. Maybe he was twisting something out of proportion. He had to ride out the conversation to get to the bottom of things.
“He goes on an’ on about how I’m just as bad as Remus—”
“Logan! Are you listening?” Patton stared at the floor and sipped, and Roman went on. “I’m not… I’m not the one going around trying to sock anyone!”
“I don’t think you could land a solid right cross, Roman.”
“That’s not the point!”
Slowly, Patton put his glass down and looked at Roman. “Then what is the point, son?”
Roman turned on him, huffing and puffing and clearly angry and… and maybe hurt. “It’s not all about the sex, Patty!” Patton stared at him, unsure if he wasn’t supposed to respond. Luckily, Roman kept on steamrolling as he paced the office and waved his hands in the air. “He just—he thinks he’s so high and mighty! Smart man knows more than me, the dumb, stupid trumpet player—”
“I don’t think Logan thinks that—”
“—and he’s telling me I’m just as bad as Remus? Just because I like to get busy? Ugh! He’s just as off-track as Remus.”
Patton winced. “Ain’t that a little sharp? Just because he’s pointing something out…”
“All about the sex,” Roman repeated, like this was a key phrase. Patton sat down and let him rant for a bit. “What the hell does he know? He doesn’t know a damn thing. He doesn’t know what I’ve been through. The swamp and a half that was my childhood. He’s just some cat that I took a shining to and… and we all know how well those things end.”
For a moment, Patton quietly rocked his half-full glass of rum from side to side. Then Roman turned to look at him like he was expecting something. Patton blinked. “Sorry; not sure what you want from me, pally. Am I supposed to give advice? Or just listen?”
Roman huffed and snapped: “What’s wrong with sex?”
“No…thing?” Patton said slowly, unsure if this was the right answer.
“World’s a mess. I’m a mess. And sometimes you need to get a little dizzy and just… not feel things for a while. You know what I mean?” Patton pursed his lips and hummed, and that was all Roman needed to continue. “So maybe… maybe I just want to feel that more than other people. Maybe I’m just a little more jazzed for a twist. Who cares? Why is that a problem?”
Patton stopped rocking his glass and gave Roman a hard look. “Well. If he ain’t up to get down, then I’d say it’s a problem.” Roman looked at him. Patton didn’t back down. “You ever think about that?”
“Why wouldn’t someone want to get busy?”
“It’s just sex!” Roman said for the umpteenth time. “If you wanna screw, you screw! There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t go all the time without thinking about it! Just—all the time!” He dragged his hands back through his hair, tangling desperately as if it would justify his urgency. “It just… if you’re gettin’ dizzy, you can’t see the shit going on around you. If you… keep busy… don’t have to think of anything else. Anyone wants that. Everyone wants that.”
Patton stared at him. He kept his expression calm. He kept his hand light on the glass. “Roman.”
There were gritted teeth and burning eyes waiting for him. “What.”
“That isn’t true, and you know it.”
Slowly, Roman took his hands from his hair. He looked at Patton for a long time, his expression torn in a million different ways. Like a newspaper dropped in the gutter, slowly disintegrating with all those different words fluttering away with cold, cold water. It took a minute for him to find words, but when he did, they were more frustrated than determined.
“It’s… I’m not as bad as Remus.”
“I never said you were.”
“Logan said,” he struggled, “Logan said…”
“We’re all bad in our own ways.” Patton tipped his glass again, watching the amber liquid slosh along the sides of the container. Then he looked at Roman again. “We all have something.”
“I don’t have a problem.” He said, like he could repeat it until it was true. “It’s just sex.”
“Roman,” Patton said softly. “The way you’re spitting about… doesn’t sound like it’s just sex.” They were quiet together for a moment, and then Patton sat forward at his desk, looking at Roman with a softness in his eyes. “You… have you ever just told Logan? What you think about the whole thing? The… the escape of it.”
“I’m not—” Roman snorted and shook his head. “You make it sound like I’m some guppy in the ocean… trying to hide from the world.”
Patton smiled a strained smile. “Don’t mix me with metaphors, pretty boy. I’m not a drink for you to shake up.”
After a moment, Roman returned to the sofa and sat down. Patton pushed away from his desk, quietly joining him on the worn cushions. It didn’t take long for Roman to lean against his shoulder. Patton allowed it, putting an arm around Roman and giving him a soft pat. Just for the reassurance. Just so Roman knew that he was being comforted, even if the comfort felt far away. Romans next words were soft and hurt.
“He says that’s all we were.” His green eyes seemed distant, like the office was the fake backdrop on a stage and he was really somewhere very different and very dark. “He said I just saw him for sex.”
Patton tried to be gentle, but it was still like dabbing at a wound with peroxide. “Do you?”
“No,” Roman muttered. “He was… he was my friend once.”
A pause. Then: “When did that change?”
Roman looked at him helplessly. “I don’t know. When did you start drinking? When did Remus start mixing cocaine into the wine? When did… when…?”
Neither had an answer. Sometimes, things gradually snuck up on people. Like winter or depression. Slowly and purposefully sneaking in, reaching out with thin tendrils that are so easy to overlook. It wasn’t until someone was knee deep in snow and thinking about death that things started to shatter and rattle. It wasn’t until someone was too deep that they realize they’re drowning. Patton glanced back at this desk, at the glass that waited for him there. It wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t a problem like Remus and the cocaine or Roman and sex. It wasn’t… it wasn’t the same.
Patton rubbed Roman’s shoulder and sighed. “Look, Mac. I’m no expert on how to keep things clean and organized. Last time I was with somebody and serious like you are with Logan, I…” he paused, blinked slowly, and sighed through a smile. “It ended. And nobody likes a sad end.”
Roman turned into him fully, wrapping an arm around Patton’s middle and pressing his face into Patton’s chest. Like he could tuck himself away and hide from anything and everything that had happened between him and Logan. Like a child seeking refuge from a world that was too big and too loud. Patton put a hand on Roman’s hair, not pushing him away and not holding hi close, but rather… just holding. Just to pat his hair and comfort him.
“I don’t want…” Roman mumbled into his coat. Patton made a face.
“One more time, pretty boy. Can’t hear you with cotton in your mouth.”
Roman leaned back a bit and glowered up at him. “Don’t want things to end with Logan.”
“Maybe… tell him that.”
Now Roman’s expression twisted, and he looked uniquely depressed. “He doesn’t want to talk.”
Patton cocked his head to the side and scratched his fingers through Roman’s hair. “Not sure about that, slick. Sounded like talking is what he wanted. Not a tumble.”
Patton tugged on a pinch of Roman’s hair, just to still his tongue for a second. “You think ignoring him will make it better?”
Roman’s voice was soft. “Maybe.”
Silence stretched out between them, taking too long and spreading out as the world around them continued on. Outside Patton’s office, the bar was bustling low and continuous. Like a sleepy beehive with drones too smashed to accurately carry out tasks. The band played sleepily, swinging long, heavy notes like they were the pendulum of an out-of-date clock. Like a steady beat that would put The Patron and her patrons to sleep. Patton couldn’t be bothered by that; there weren’t enough people in the place to be hoppin’ like Lollie’s Wonderland. They were just another sleepy speakeasy. Soft, cozy, and quiet. Personal, some could say. Intimate, Patton would prefer.
But without her prized singer and star trumpeter, the Patron was subdued and lazy. And Patton couldn’t be angry for it. They were all falling to pieces. At least like this, he could look down at Roman and know that he was still in one piece. Remus was with Dee… surely, that was better than letting him wander the streets unattended. Dee would take good care of him. Or so Patton hoped. Dee was always very dismissive with things, but his eyes seemed… stern. Sharp. He was worried about Remus. That gave Patton hope.
And Roman? Oh, Roman… Patton wasn’t sure what to do to help him. He was up in his own head, spinning himself in fantastic circles while Logan was trying to stand his ground. They could only go so long without sitting down and talking. And though people were inclined to enjoy a little twist in the sheets, it wasn’t a substitute for the words: “what are we doing?” Patton understood. He knew what it felt like, not wanting to breach topics and muddle things. He knew what it meant to want to keep things simple and easy. Just to have fun and not use his brain. That was him and Janus, once upon a time.
And now he was just Patton. And Janus was Dee. And they were so damn far apart, it almost stung to think of it.
With a frown, Patton dragged his fingers through Roman’s hair. He didn’t want that for him. Not Roman, who fell too fast and too hard and couldn’t keep his feet under him. He didn’t want Remus to go through that either. He wanted Remus to love, to feel that love all the way down and let it sink in. To let himself be adored. Dee was good at loving. Patton remembered that, at least.
“I don’t know what to say to him,” Roman said after a long while. Patton blinked himself out of his thoughts and looked down at Roman. He could only see Roman’s profile pressed against his vest, and it was twisted in a thoughtful grimace. Patton hummed and patted his hair, and Roman’s breath caught before he repeated: “I just… don’t know what to say.”
“Let it sit,” Patton said softly. “Give it a night. Sometimes you need to let a big fight sit and air out like a freshly opened bottle.”
“Tellin’ me to let it age like fine wine, Patty?”
Patton pursed his lips. “Wine? No thank you.”
Roman snorted a laugh and hid his face in Patton’s chest, holding himself to Patton as close as he could. Like Patton was his comfort object. Like Patton was the closest thing to going home and asking Ma or Pop for a hug. It pulled at Patton’s heartstrings and it made him smile a bitter smile. He dragged his fingers through Roman’s hair again, slow and repetitive. Comfort in its simplest form.
He glanced back at his desk where his rum was waiting. He resigned himself to waiting. He could sit with Roman for a bit longer.
Chicago — September 5th, 1921
The Patron was just as quiet without Remus to rile up its wide-open stage the next day. It would be quiet for several days after that. Logan didn’t mind the quiet. He got paid either way, though his checks had been few and far between in the recent months. Patton was getting it under control slowly but surely, but there was still an edge to him that Logan didn’t like. Almost like he was hiding things. Like he had secrets.
Well. At least everyone in The Patron had a secret or two. Including himself. Logan couldn’t be too angry for that, could he? He digressed. It was late that Monday, and he was allowed his break after hours of watching the door. Really, he could use his break to do anything he wanted while Paul watched the door. He could go down to 3rd Avenue and get himself a sandwich… he could brood on the loading dock with Virgil… he could get in the beat-up truck Patton used for supply runs and just drive away until the gas ran out. He could. But he didn’t.
He went to the bar, angry and sad and frustrated. Roman hadn’t come back to their place after their fight outside the club. Was… was their conversation even considered a fight? He wasn’t sure. He ordered himself a rum and coke and Dick slid him a glass along with a sad look. Logan didn’t care for that. Did everyone in the club already know? Maybe… Roman was a notorious gossip.
But it was strange that everyone else knew… and Roman hadn’t even approached him once that evening. He didn’t come home that night. Or the entire morning. The first time Logan had seen him in 22 hours was when he walked into the club to punch in, and… well, there he was. Standing on the stage with his hat pulled low and head bowed to avoid letting the crowd see his black eye. He wasn’t bouncing with the band like he loved to do. No, he was quiet. Subdued and crooning to his trumpet like the melody would make everything better.
And Logan didn’t approach him. There was an odd discordance between them, and Logan wasn’t sure how to fix it. Neither was Roman. The distance stretched out between them and Logan nursed his rum and coke like it would scrub away the itchy feeling deep in the pit of his stomach.
There was a fleeting part of him, deep, deep in the back of his mind that wondered; should he have just stayed quiet? If they were both enjoying each other, was it worth making a fuss? The large part of him knew that yes, it was an issue. When was the last time they had just spent the night together, talking about anything and everything? When was the last time Roman played his trumpet for him in one of those bizarre serenades he was so excited about? When was the last time Logan read to him? All of these thoughts had been running through his head the night before. The night where he went to bed alone. The night without Roman.
Who knew that living with someone for two years could make the entire apartment seem hollow and sad and barren without them? Logan sipped his drink. Had Roman gone somewhere else for the night? Had he found someone else to sate his hunger? He was always so insistent. He always so incredibly driven for instant gratification. Logan grimaced and signaled for another drink. Dick slid him a glass and it made itself at home in Logan’s hand.
While Logan kept thinking himself into a dark spiral, he glanced at the stage. There Roman stood with his band, playing low and slow like the trumpet was sleepy and he didn’t have the gall to wake it up. He didn’t swing like he used to. He didn’t smile between the notes. He didn’t even glance in Logan’s direction. He stared down at the floor and tapped his foot so slow, Logan might’ve thought they were playing music for an intimate affair. But it was just the bar. And patrons drank quietly. Logan almost signaled for another drink but decided against it. The alcohol sat hot in his stomach and he wasn’t in the mood to be smoked.
Instead, he watched as Virgil walked Mr. Moore around the corner of the bar and sat in him down in a chair. Logan glanced at him, raising and eyebrow at Virgil as Patton sighed and folded his arms on the bar. Virgil shook his head.
“He wandered out back and started chinnin’ about Mr. Dee… and bad shipments?” Virgil gave Patton a good slap on the back. “Keep an eye on him. I’ve got boxes to move.”
And then Virgil was gone, leaving Logan in charge of their employer. Logan frowned and looked down at his rum and coke. He slid it over to Patton. Patton held onto it like a lucky charm. For a while, they were quiet, listening to that slow, slow swing of music. Then, because Logan was curious and liked a good puzzle to solve, he looked at Patton.
“What was that about bad shipments?”
Patton gave him a hazy look from the corner of his eye. Then, he fidgeted with his glasses a bit, wiping off the lenses like it meant something. “Nothin’ to worry yourself about, Logan. You have enough on your plate.”
Logan twitched; so Patton knew about his and Roman’s argument. Wonderful. He brushed that aside and turned to really look at Patton. “That doesn’t mean a man can’t be curious. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Patton said, a little firmer this time. He knocked back the rum and coke and waved Dick over for another. “Nothing you have to worry about. You’re a puzzler, Logan. Smartest cat I’ve got on my side. But… I don’t need anybody picking around in this.”
That made Logan bristle a little, just with reflexive defense. “Of… course I’m smart. That’s why you hired me. And if you’re having trouble, why wouldn’t you use every option at your disposal?”
“Logan…” Patton sounded tired. Put-out by the offer. That irritated Logan even more.
“There used to be a time when you had me go out and get your supplies.”
“Now, don’t… don’t raise your voice– and yeah, I did. You’re smart enough not to let anything go too haywire if the deal goes rotten.”
Logan sat forward. “Yeah. I’m a good shot. I don’t take any flack. And if a body dropped, it never got back to us. So why—”
“Calm down, Logan—”
“—why is Mr. Dee doing your shipments? What is he doing that we can’t do ourselves?”
Patton looked at him, his bright eyes suddenly looking very worn and aged. His smile was strained and irritable. Logan had noticed that change long ago. When he no longer smiled like a person, but more like a puppet with a smile sloppily painted over a grimace.
“You’re a smart man, Logan.” He said. “Maybe Roman and Remus can overlook how strapped we are for cash, but I know you wouldn’t. I know you wouldn’t.” There was a moment where he tipped his glass to and fro, a sad look on his bitter, smiling face as he stared down at his cup. “I kept you here… because you’re the first one to see people coming in. You’re the… ah. You know.”
Logan sat back. “Last line of defense.”
“Yeah, that. That’s it.” Patton raised the glass to his lips, thought, then lowered it. “Someone tried to take this place out last year.”
“I know that.”
“And now, even with Dee helping us, there’s trouble with out suppliers. We’re getting trouble like no one’s business. Even with Dee financing the flow.”
“Right, I know that.”
Patton glanced at him again, and a fraction of that tense smile cracked. “’course you do. You’re the smartest of us all. You want to take over?” he asked, and Logan could hear the desperation in the question. He could hear the frantic edge to the words, almost lost under the buzz of alcohol. The need for an out. “You want a bar? I’ve been told I’m not cut out for this.”
Logan thought for a moment, then he looked away. “Maybe you’re not.”
Though Patton laughed, Logan could see him wince in his periphery. “You’re too honest.”
“I’m your last line of defense,” Logan said to himself. “So I can’t go out and help with the bad shipments.” Patton hummed, and Logan ran his tongue over the front of his teeth. To his right, the band started a new song. “And you think we’re in trouble with some other joint?”
Patton paused mid-sip to stare straight ahead with a perplexed expression. “Did I say that?”
“I can read between the lines, Mr. Moore.”
“Too smart,” Patton lamented. “Too damn smart.”
They were quiet for a moment. Then, Logan waved Dick over and asked for some water. He made sure to give it to Patton, who looked at the glass in confusion. Logan didn’t push it, but he did catch Patton’s eye long enough to say: “Do you think it’s the people from the Wonderland?”
Patton made a face. “Who wants to suspect their flesh and blood of something like that?” Logan stared at him, and Patton huffed a sigh. “Of course, I… thought about it. I mean. The timing is all too easy, ya know? We were hitting our stride and… and Lollie’s place was up and coming and then…”
“The fire,” Patton repeated flatly. He thumbed the rim of his cup, his eyes going glassy and far away as he stared over the bar at the racks of bottles along the shelves. Bottles supplied by none other than Mr. Dee. Bottles they wouldn’t be able to have without him. Patton sighed again. “I don’t want to… to suspect her. I love Lollie. I do. She’s my sister.”
Logan looked away. “Roman and Remus didn’t know that before you went for your little… visit.”
Patton glanced at him with a smile on his lips. “You did, though?”
“I’m smart, Mr. Moore.”
“Too smart,” Patton said again, the words coming out sad rather than impressed. “How much do you know Logan?”
Logan glanced at him. “I know some, Mr. Moore. But not enough to answer my questions.”
“Gonna pick my brain, Bruno?”
“I would if you weren’t done-up like a bank vault.”
Patton laughed at that; the sound was genuine. It had been a long time since Logan had heard him really laugh. “You flatter me! But it sounds more like a line than anything.” He tap, tap, tapped his finger against his glass, his smile slowly melting away like ice in warm liquor. “You don’t want to sit here flappin’ your gums with me. I know that much.”
Logan narrowed his eyes. “You think so? I’ve got questions.”
There was a pause. Then Patton brought his glass up to his lips and spoke into the glass. “Roman stayed with me last night.”
“That wasn’t one of my questions.”
“You weren’t curious?”
Logan twitched and looked away. Of course Roman went running to Patton. Roman had probably gone looking for reassurance and Patton must have given it to him. Patton always had a soft spot for the twins. Logan might’ve called it a complex if he couldn’t see that Patton was just a bleeding heart. He just wanted the best for everybody, and (somehow) that included him. So Patton wanted the best for him? Maybe he should keep his nose out of his and Roman’s business.
“I wasn’t curious,” Logan lied after a while. He purposefully didn’t look at the stage. He continued to look at Patton, monitoring his expression as he nursed his rum and coke. Patton only smiled.
“You’re too smart for that, son.” He said, like it mattered. Logan frowned.
“Don’t call me son.”
Patton nodded with a pinched expression, mostly to humor Logan as he turned and slipped of the barstool. Logan almost stopped him, just to have reasonable cause to say that he had tried to keep Patton out of trouble, but he didn’t quite care if Patton slipped and fell. A drunkard would get what a drunkard deserved. Patton was only going to his office anyway. And before he left the bar, Patton reached over and touched Logan’s shoulder. A heavy, sturdy pat that… well, it surely meant to signify something. An easy touch. A friendly gesture. Like pity…? Or maybe empathy.
Logan didn’t have time to worry about the meaning as Patton pushed his hands into his pockets and moseyed back to his office. He watched Patton get all the way to the door when someone came to sit next to him at the bar. With a sigh, Logan reached into his pocket to fish out a few quarters for the drinks. When he slid the coins over to Dick, he paused and glanced to the right. Next to him, Roman was sitting with his back to the bar. He didn’t look at Logan, but it was clear that he was there for Logan. Of all the open seats at the bar, he put himself down next to him.
Logan looked at him for a moment, almost waiting for Roman to say something… but Roman stayed quiet, staring out at the club and watching the patrons wearing dark coats, dark hats, and dark expressions drink their booze. People-watching had always been one of Roman’s favorite hobbies between sets. When they first started to spend time together, they would take breaks together, just like this. They would sit together, and they would make up gossip about the people at the bar, just to fill the time.
But they didn’t make up stories now. They were quiet next to one another. Maybe Roman didn’t want to talk. Maybe he didn’t find merit in that anymore. Maybe he was just looking for a nice way to say that he was going to move on and find someone new to fill his bed and distract him from anything and everything. Sex was Roman’s favorite distraction and, well, if Logan wasn’t going to distract him… why not someone else?
Logan gritted his teeth and moved to stand up… then he stopped.
Roman had leaned over and put his head on Logan’s shoulder. Just… leaning against him, as if it would make everything better just to be near him. Logan could push away and leave Roman at the bar. He could go right back to the door and pretend they hadn’t met there. He could pretend he didn’t care. Logan was too honest to pretend though. And he had never been very good at acting.
So he raised a hand to Dick, and he was given another drink. Dick was a good guy and never really bothered to ask questions, and Logan appreciated that as he was given his drink and promptly ignored. The less people that stared at them the better. Roman leaned against him. Logan drank. And the bank started to play something smooth and jazzy. Charles picked up his clarinet and gave the club a good smooth introduction, and it left Logan mellow and somber.
After two songs of quiet, tense drinking, Roman spoke. Just softly. Just under the music so Logan could hear him.
“I missed you last night.”
Logan’s brow furrowed. “Yeah?”
The words stayed soft, but there was a weight to them when Roman said: “You were right.”
“Of course I was.”
“Don’t be an ass, I’m tryin’ to—” he said, before pausing to consider his words. Then he started again. “Wait, I… hold on. Let me find the words.”
His head was still a solid weight on Logan’s shoulder. Logan turned his glass round and around, staring at the back of the bar as he waited. “Alright.”
“I missed you.”
Logan nodded. “I got that.”
Roman’s next words were soft: “Not just… not just sex. I didn’t miss—well, I missed that, but. Fuck. Logan, you know I don’t just want—you know it’s more than just…” he stopped again, like nothing he said made sense, and then he sat upright, pulling away from Logan to push a hand through his hair. “God dammit, I need a smoke…”
Logan reached into his breast pocket and handed Roman a cigarette, and Roman blinked at it before smiling and taking it. It sat in his fingers for a bit, and he turned it over and over while he spoke.
“I didn’t used to… it didn’t always sit in the back of my head like this. You know? Before it was just something that was fun and… and then things happened and…” Roman looked down at the cigarette and Logan saw the way his green eyes flickered in the low light of the club. He didn’t smile when he said: “Then, it was just… not thinking about things. If I’m mad, I could just… go with you and have fun and not think about it. If I was sad, or… or remembering things, or if I—you know, it wasn’t always like that. It wasn’t like that at the start, right?”
Logan stared at him. “What changed?”
Roman met his eye and it was a hollow meeting. This… this new kind of meeting in the middle. Fragile and worried. Roman took a breath and smiled hopelessly. “I don’t know. Did I change? Didn’t… didn’t feel like I changed.” He paused, then pressed his lips together in a tight line. “What changed, baby?”
For a while, Logan looked at him. Trying to perceive something more than what Roman was giving him. But there was nothing. They were imperfect and Roman wasn’t always an open book. What had changed in him – what had changed in them – was deep under the skin and it wasn’t a surface issue. Logan took a breath, deep and thoughtful, before letting it out.
“Why didn’t we talk?”
Roman snorted and looked away. “Us? Gabbin’ like a couple of high canaries? Now you’re being cute.”
“I know,” he said, “I know.”
They were quiet for a bit, letting the words sit and air-out. Then Logan said: “I can’t solve this problem on my own.”
Roman glanced at him. “Smart guy like you? You could solve anything.”
“Not you,” Logan said stiffly. Roman didn’t smile. “I can’t solve you.”
“Wasn’t asking you to, handsome.”
Logan took a breath and cocked his head to the side. “Then what are you asking for, Roman?”
Roman pursed his lips, making one of those thoughtful faces he used to put on when he was constructing a bet. Then, he sighed with a strained smile. “Maybe a second chance.”
“A second chance,” Logan echoed hesitantly. Roman shrugged, but the movement was too tense to be casual. He was worried. Afraid that Logan would turn him down. He cared, and that… well, that was more comforting than Logan expected it to be.
“Like a do-over. Give me a chance to… try it again.”
“Try what again?”
“This,” Roman said as he gestured vaguely between them. “This. And… maybe more talking. Ya know. If you’re…” he waved a hand in the air oddly. “Into that sorta thing.”
Logan looked at him for a moment, and Roman avoided his eye studiously. Like he was embarrassed. No… no, not embarrassed. Concerned. Logan turned back to his glass and nodded just once.
“I think we could do that. Trying it again.” Roman let out a breath, relieved, and Logan gestured for another drink. It was given to him quickly, and he took leisurely sips. “Maybe we could try that ‘talking’ thing you’re so opposed to.” That made Roman laugh, and Logan smiled into his glass. “Maybe you’ll learn to think about things, too.”
“You’re a thug, that’s what you are,” Roman snickered as he leaned his head against Logan’s shoulder again. They stayed there for a while, admiring the music for a bit. Then, Roman spoke again. Just a soft, breathy murmur of: “I… you know, after all this garbage. Even when I thought I was so much better off not thinking about it. I think I missed this. Not to get sappy, but—I missed this. I missed you.”
Logan took a slow, slow drink and set down his glass. “Yeah,” he said quietly. Just low enough that only Roman would hear him. “I’ve missed you, too.”
Chicago — September 12th, 1921
Dee had his hand on the rotary dial when he heard a commotion outside his door. There was shouting. Scrambling. The rushed thud of footsteps. Dee calmly spun the dial and it spun back just as lazily. Then the shouting started. Just soft at first. Something like cursing that grew louder as the footsteps came closer to his office door. He sighed; Remus wasn’t taking his first night without cocaine happily, even if they had agreed to this being his first night and easing him into it.
Smaller bits of the drug had been allowed for the past few days, and though Patton understood what they were doing, he was eager to have his prized singer back and in good health. Dee suspected he also wanted Remus on his stage. Conditions were given. Remus had to be sober and he had to make up with Roman in order to go back. No more fistfights would be allowed. Well… not between his workers, surely. Patton knew that with enough alcohol, things tended to happen between his patrons. But that was par for the course at a bar. He was getting distracted.
He gave the operator the number and the name of who he was trying to call, and while he heard Remus biting and shouting in the hallway, he calmly spoke into the receiver. A cool and placid: “Sure, I’ll wait.”
The door was slammed open to reveal Remus struggling in the hold of two of Dee’s Associates. He raised an eyebrow at the way Remus kicked and struggled.
“Hey, dollface. Gonna breeze so soon?”
“Shut your mouth!” Remus snarled as he kicked the open air for good measure. He knew he wasn’t getting out of the hold he was in. He just wanted to hiss and scratch anyway. Dee didn’t bother to lower the transmitter of the phone while Remus snapped at him. “I feel like I’m burning from the inside out and you’ve got this motherfucking broken lightbulbs on my tail—”
“You’re not burning, Remus.” To his credit, Remus was red and sweating, and his hands were shaking something fierce. What had he heard it called? Withdrawals? Dee knew enough to know that as they lowered the dose, Remus would live. It would feel like dying… but he would live. Calmly, Dee gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Put ‘im there, Delia. I don’t think we’ll need Shanie here to keep him in place.
Shanie stayed in the office long enough to shove Remus into the padded chair (while he pushed and kicked and struggled the whole way) before they glanced at Delia, shrugged, and wandered out. Delia stood as an impenetrable little brick wall, crossing her arms over his chest and glowering down at Remus if he so much as glanced at her. Dee was more amused than displeased when the operator picked up again. He smiled and nodded.
“That’s right. Lollie’s the name. Lollie Moore.” A pause, then, “Yeah, I’ll wait.”
Remus shifted in the plush chair. Then he shifted again. Then he looked around the office for an escape. Delia wouldn’t let him leave until Dee said he could. Maybe Remus knew that. Maybe he didn’t care. He bolted from his seat and Dee watched with a bored expression as Delia grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground. They had agreed after all. Dee made sure that he could use all measures. And Remus said he could… so what was wrong with using a little bit of his hired muscle to keep Remus on the straight and narrow?
He turned his back to the hissing and scratching on his office rug to lean his hip against his desk. He smiled when the line clicked, and he heard the dulcet tones of a woman that no longer loved him.
“What the hell do you want?”
“Aw, Lollipop, ain’t you sweet? Haven’t you missed me?”
Her voice was crackly, but Dee could still hear a laugh across the line. “Real cute, Janny. Now what do you want?”
Dee smiled and rocked the transmitter in his hand. “Honestly? You think I’d give it up that easy? C’mon, Lols you know me better than that. I need to warm up to it.”
A heavy, worn sigh. “Oh, please…”
“How ya been, Lollie?”
“Heard any good rumors lately? Any sweet gossip from your pretty little birds?”
“Janus, I swear to god. What do you want?”
On the floor, Remus let out a string of curses. Dee glanced at him, making sure Delia wasn’t breaking any bones, and he saw that Delia had him effectively pinned to the floor. With the way his face was going red, he would scream himself unconscious. Dee turned away again.
Lollie’s voice was fittingly bewildered. “What—Janus, what the hell is going on over there?”
“Intervention. Ever heard of them? I hear they’re fun for the whole family.”
“Yeah,” Lollie snapped, more bitter than endeared. “You’re so funny.” He used to be able to strike banter with her so easy… who knew that years of distance could change people? He crossed his legs at the ankle and smiled when Lollie said: “Seriously, what the hell do you want? I have a business to run.”
“That’s the thing, Lols. That’s why I’m calling.”
A pause. A heavy pause that crackled through the receiver. Dee smiled. “What about my business?”
“It’s doin’ good, isn’t it? Real good from what I’ve seen. Even after we took your band.”
“I got a new one,” she said quickly. Too quick. Like she had excuses on standby. Like she was waiting to be asked these questions. Dee’s eyes narrowed and he hung on each word, each pitch of her voice, each pause… “What’s your point?”
“Point is: runners are getting intercepted everywhere I send them. Everyone in this city seems to be having trouble getting their bootleg booze, but… huh. Ain’t that interesting? Your place is doing just fine.”
“Oh my god, I’m dying, and you’re squawking at some dame?” Remus cried from the floor. Dee lowered the receiver and gave him a look. Delia had him pinned and he wasn’t struggling anymore, but it was clear he was wrung out and itching for a fix.
“You’re not dying, Remus. You’re just gettin’ it out of your system.”
“No!” Remus snarled, “I want it in my system!”
“No can do, babycakes.”
Remus pressed his face into the rug while Delia rolled her eyes. “Fuck!”
Through the transmitter, Dee could hear Lollie sigh. “Do you even want me on the line for this Janny-boy? You seem all tied up.”
Dee smiled through the irritation. “Sweet of you to ask, but I’m fine. I wanna swing back to my point earlier…”
“The point where my bar is doing real good and you can’t accomplish shit in Chicago?”
Dee’s eyes crinkled as his smile grew sharp. “Yeah. That.”
“What do you want me to say, Janus? I got lucky. I’m being left alone.” Just for good measure, Lollie added on a sarcastic: “Yahoo.”
Dee frowned and tapped the transmitter while he thought. Was she telling the truth and she was just lucky? Or was this something bigger at play and she was more deceptive than he thought? He wished he could look at her. Just to see her expression. She used to wrinkle her nose when she had a good hand in poker. A subtle but sweet little tell. Did she still wrinkle her nose when caught in a lie?
Dee gestured for Remus to be let up, and Delia dragged him up and into the chair. Dee sat down in his own chair, frowning at the phone as he said: “Listen, Lollie. I want you to be straight with me. No con, no giggles; just flat truth.”
There was a pause, one where Lollie weighed the situation. Then she said: “Alright. Fine.”
“Are you involved with the people trying to jack our bar?”
In his chair, Remus perked up. He looked confused and dizzy, but there was a spark of interest in his eye as he looked at Dee. He didn’t have the whole picture. Not yet. And Lollie was on the other side of the line, letting out a sad, disappointed sigh.
“You—come on, Janus… you really think I would do that to Patty?”
Janus cocked his head to the side and tapped the transmitter thoughtfully. “I think you’ll do whatever it takes to be the best. You were always so competitive, Lollipop.”
She sounded unimpressed. “Really.”
“Did the dog bite you hard this time?” He asked coyly. “Need to be the best so you had to bury Patton?”
Remus squinted and sat forward. “Lollie sold us out?” Dee motioned for him to hush for a moment, and Remus wiped the beaded sweat from his brow. His hands were shaking. Dee almost wanted to hold them.
After a moment, Lollie huffed. “I didn’t sell anyone out. I got lucky. I don’t know why they’re going after The Patron, and I don’t know why they’re fucking with your shipments, but it’s not me. Alright? I’m not behind this.”
Dee took a slow breath. “And you’re not in front of it either?”
Lollie snorted a laugh. “Real cute, Janny. You haven’t changed.” She paused, then her voice was just a fraction gentler. “You’re still his little Janus beast, aren’t you?”
Forcing a smile into his voice, Dee narrowed his eyes and drummed his fingers on his desk impatiently. He saw Remus in his periphery, shaking but not stirred. “Not quite, doll. I’ve got someone new in my life.”
“Mmm, that’s right… the singer, ain’t it? How’s that going?”
Dee sat back. “Ah, ah… that’s not of your business, is it?”
“What’s wrong, Janny? Can’t handle a few questions thrown your way?”
“Not when I’ve got nothing to gain.” He thought for a moment, and Lollie let the silence stretch between them. If she didn’t know who was messing with the stores and she was unwilling to give herself up, then they would have to find a new solution. Direct action. Dee rubbed his chin for a second… then smiled. “Thanks for the chat, Lols. You’ve been real helpful.”
“We’ll talk again,” he promised with that same smile in his voice. “Real soon.”
“God, don’t make me hold my breath.”
He hung up without a goodbye. He and Lollie had never been good with those. Instead, he set the phone aside and looked at Remus with a new smile. A real one that cut through the withdrawal haze of nausea on Remus’s face.
“Hey, songbird. You look rough.”
Remus squirmed. “Feel like I’m gonna fall out of my skin.”
Dee hummed thoughtfully, then glanced up at Delia. She would keep Remus in the house, surely. And she wouldn’t let him have any sort of cocaine, no matter how hard he tried to escape or scream or beg or fight for it… but would that really be enjoyable? Captivity for days on end until he could stand upright without wobbling? That wasn’t any fun at all. Remus needed to be able to breathe. To see the city that he ran rampant through. Just… safer. Watched over. Dee could handle that himself.
So with a wave of his hand, Dee stood up and grabbed his coat. “C’mon, songbird. We’ll go for a drive.”
Remus’s eyes sparkled and he sat up excitably. “Yeah? We gonna get—”
“No, I’m not getting your fix.” He put his hat on Remus’s head, just because it looked nice there. Not because he was endeared with the way Remus would always set it at a tilt and smile. Though that did tug at his heartstrings. He took Remus by the hand and led him to the door (closely followed by Delia) and they made for the door. It seemed Remus was going to come willingly, if only to sate his desire to get up and leave captivity. Dee couldn’t blame him.
“Where are we goin’?” Remus asked with a sharp bite to the words. He was all twitchy, looking around while they walked. He spoke with a jitterly lilt to his voice as he wondered. “Not getting a fix… not going to The Patron… are we gonna rough somebody up? You gonna whack somebody?” Remus sounded very excited when he asked: “Can I hold the gun?”
“Maybe.” Dee opened the door for him, and Remus stopped to look up at him, still shaky and hazy. Dee smiled. “We’re gonna find the people messing with my shipments.”
Remus practically vibrated with energy. “And then whack them?”
“We’ll see if you behave, kitten.”
That energetic glimmer turned dark and wicked as Remus took Dee’s lapels and dragged him down into a kiss. “Aw, Dee… don’t you know me? I never behave.”
Dee only smiled and made sure his gun was out of reach. He didn’t mind the way Remus’s hand slid into a pocket looking for his wallet. He wouldn’t find it. And from the way Remus smiled against his lips, he already knew that. Dee smiled right back. “Just the way I like it.”
Thanks for reading! I'm on tumblr @ misplaced-my-notes
See you next chapter.
CW: A man gets shot to death, mentions of abuse
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Chicago – February 1922
Remus wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “Too damn sparkly, Vicky. You need to give ‘em oomph along with the shine.”
Vicky, to her credit, leaned into the vanity, pushing at the curls in her hair. The sparkly headdress she wore was weighing them down, but she didn’t seem to mind as she shook her hips and ignored Remus where he sat (irritated) behind her. She was an old chorus girl, one that didn’t need the work that she landed, but one that did it for the fun of it. Her lover was buying her too many expensive things – like that damn headdress – and Remus wondered when his wife would notice the money he dropped on this lovely little flapper. Probably never.
To pass the time while Vicky swarmed the mirror, Remus let his eyes travel down her long legs… and then he smiled.
“You’ve got a run, baby.”
Vicky (finally) leaned back from the vanity. After a little bit of twisting, she looked down at the tear in her pantyhose with a noise of despair. With a sad coo, she braced her hand on Remus’s shoulder and kicked off her shoes. He took the opportunity to look at himself in the mirror so he could curl his mustache just the way he liked it. When Vicky leaned on him a little harder, he braced his shoulder so she could pull off her pantyhose and toss them across the room. At least she was dedicated and willing to go out and sing and dance without them.
What was that saying? The show must go on, with or without clothing.
(That was how Remus remembered it, anyway.)
The door to the dressing room opened and Roman stepped in just in time for Vicky to look at him and say: “Your brother put a run in my tights.”
Remus baulked. “Did not! This little harpy was hogging the mirror.”
Vicky was quick to turn on him. “Mistah Kingsley’s gonna make a dishonest woman of me.”
Leaning into the vanity, Remus snorted, “You wish, babydoll.”
Vicky only giggled as she slipped past Roman and out to the bar. The sounds were big and bright from the band when the door opened, and even after it shut Remus could hear the wail of a trombone and the squawk of a clarinet having too much fun. He wanted to go out and have that fun. He wanted to straddle his microphone and gave the entire bar a good time. But there was an itch in his throat, and he reached for his favorite bottle – only to realize it wasn’t there.
He went back to assessing his mustache in the mirror.
Roman must’ve seen him reach. Roman couldn’t have missed that. But he feigned ignorance as he went to the lounge in the corner and fell into it with a huff. Remus gave him a wry grin and a look from the corner of his eye.
“What’s wrong, stud? Couldn’t get it up with Logan?”
“Ahah, you’re so funny. Let’s put you in a looney bin, you’re so fucking funny.” Roman said harsh words, but he was calm as he kicked his feet up and crossed them at the ankle. “Virgil’s gone to get us bourbon.”
“So?” Remus asked, more nonplussed than anything. “Sounds like old news to me.”
Roman shrugged oddly. “Thought I’d let you know.”
“Why the fuck would I care what Virgil’s doing?”
Roman blinked slowly. “Tell me how you really feel.”
“I think Virgil’s time would be better spent tying up Patty, don’t you?” They both paused to imagine Patton tied to a four-post bed with silk scarves. Remus sighed. “Bet that would break that shitty fake smile he wears.”
“I bet it would break a lot of things,” Roman agreed. “Like his bed.”
Remus pursed his lips. “Or his back.”
They paused to imagine this new scenario, and Remus snorted a laugh before he went reaching again (out of habit, damn it). His hand hit open air and he dropped it to the surface of the vanity. Like he meant to place it there. Like it didn’t matter. He fiddled with a compact makeup case that belonged to one of the girls.
“When do we go on again?” He probably knew. He’d just didn’t care to remember. Roman inspected his nails pointedly.
“We’ve got time.”
“How much time?”
Now Roman looked at him. “Why the hell do you care?”
Remus fidgeted and bounced his leg. “’cause I need a smoke, ya wet blanket.”
“Huh.” Roman looked at him. “Dumbass.”
“You’re a dumbass.”
Even if he said that, Roman dug into his pocket and produced a pack of cigarettes. Remus took one and lit it up with… that looked like Patton’s lighter. Remus gave him an approving look as Roman said, “Took that and the pack right of Patty’s pocket when he wasn’t paying attention.” Roman practically glowed with self-satisfaction. “He didn’t even notice they were gone.”
“Aw,” Remus cooed dramatically. “After all this time, you’re still a two-bit pick pocket.”
“Hey, hey… I learn from the best,” Roman said as he gestured to Remus in mock-respect. Remus only laughed loudly at that.
After he took a long drag, he blew a cloud of smoke that hung above them like their own raincloud. Roman leaned back, relaxed and smarmy as all hell. Remus reached, and there was nothing to take from the vanity. But he didn’t mind this time. He simply leaned into the vanity and took another drag as he said:
“All you did was snatch a couple cigs and a lighter. I managed to snag myself a mob boss.”
Roman made a face. “That’s a totally different skillset, Remus. I didn’t even have to take off my pants.”
“Nah, nah,” Remus tutted pointedly. “I’m the best, so I make the rules.”
“What’s that thing Patty says about the pot and the kettle?”
Roman glared at him. “Both are black.”
Remus pursed his lips. “Oh yeah? Maybe I need Logan for this joke to land.”
“I can see tomorrow’s headline in the papers” Roman said dreamily. “Local musician murders brother for being Too Damn Funny.”
With a laugh, Remus reached – why did he keep doing that? – and then switched hands with his cigarette. Taking a long drag, Remus let out another breath of smoke and sighed. “When do we go on again?”
Roman leaned back, got comfortable, and smiled. “We’ve got time.”
Chicago – September 12th, 1921
Remus had an itch deep under the skin. The kind that made him fidget and bounce his leg as he looked around the car for… fuck he wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He didn’t want to escape, not when Dee was sitting there driving and looking edible. Other things were edible. Like wine. Wine with the cocaine. That good drink that would smooth things out, make it all less… shaky. Just one drink would do the trick. Two, tops. Maybe he’d agreed to do this whole… “giving it up” business too soon.
Irritably, Remus chewed his fingernails as they drove through the night-darkened city at a snail’s pace. Couldn’t they get there any faster? The sooner they were done with checking on the shipment issue, the sooner Remus could… what? He wasn’t sure. The two lackeys in the back of the car weren’t going to let him do anything without Dee’s say-so. And that was irritating. Why did he agree to this? Because Dee said he was good without it? Because he wanted to sing at The Patron again?
Because… son of a bitch. Had he forgotten Roman? No, he didn’t. He was mad at Roman. He didn’t forget. It was impossible to forget his own twin. He was just distracted. Lots of people get distracted. It happened every day. And it was happening with Remus as he wondered – what would he do if this feeling didn’t go away? Maybe it wasn’t working. Maybe he just needed to get another bottle of the cocaine-wine and just be done with it. One drink a day. Maybe every other day. That wouldn’t be so bad. He just needed to figure out a way to broach the topic to Dee.
While Remus thought this, Dee was driving slowly on purpose. Just to see how jittery Remus was. Just to get a gauge on what exactly he’d be able to do once they arrived at their supplier route. If Remus was too loud or shaky, it might make the contacts nervous. Situations like this needed pressure… but tipping the scales too far was almost too easy. Oh, dilemma, dilemma… to leave Remus in the car to keep him out of trouble, or to bring with along to keep him out of more trouble? Dee wasn’t sure yet.
So he drove, pointedly ignoring the way Remus could shoot him dark looks from his periphery before turning away. His leg bounced. He chewed his fingernails. Dee almost wanted to take Remus’s hand from his mouth and hold it so he wouldn’t make himself bleed, but he knew Remus would be irritated by that. Really, anything seemed to irritate Remus.
After they’d left the house just to give Remus a taste of fresh air, he’d seemed to realize he wasn’t being given free reign of Chicago. Remus had agreed to this, however. He had agreed that Dee could use any and all methods to keep him on this path. Sobriety was a curse and Remus was feeling the sting of it. A plunge into ice water was only fun if it was quick and followed by a warm drink… Remus was wading in the arctic. Dee couldn’t envy him if he tried.
“Where are we going?” Remus snarled eventually. Dee liked the growl in the words, though he didn’t say so.
“To our suppliers, dollface. I need to see with my own damn eyes what’s happening to my middlemen since everyone seems to think I’m playing games…” Dee couldn’t keep the edge from his voice, but he smoothed out the remainder of them when he concluded: “And we’ll root out the problem.”
“Yeah? You said you’d whack someone if I behave,” Remus said, a strange ring in the words. Dee ignored it, though he probably shouldn’t have. Remus went on. “So what happens if you find the problem?”
“We solve it.”
Remus’s leg bounced incessantly. “Yeah? Tell me how, big boy.”
“Shanie,” Dee said casually. “How do I solve problems?”
In the backseat, Shanie pulled a revolver from their jacket, snapping open the chambers with a click and spinning it thoughtfully. “Depends on how many bullets you give me, boss.”
Dee nodded thoughtfully and gave Remus a smile. “See? Simple solutions down to the number of bullets.”
Remus looked interested, but there was still that shine in his eyes. The one that spelled trouble ahead. The one that meant he wasn’t fully there. He was unsettled, like his bones were queasy. Dee returned his eyes to the road, watching for the streetlamp that marked the road to the docks. They turned slowly. Casually, some might say. Down the ramps and down into the shipyard. Easy blending for anyone looking to disappear. There weren’t enough lights on the docks to make the place habitable at night. Lucky for Dee, his mother used to call him nocturnal. He thrived in the shadows.
Once the car was parked back behind one of the long, metal warehouses, Dee made sure to give Remus a hard look.
“Listen, songbird… I know better than anyone that you like to have your fun. And I want that,” he said in a low, purposeful purr. “I want you to have all the fun you want… but this is my work. Hang back and let me do the talkin’.”
Remus’s fingers twitched and itched at the cuffs of his sleeves. That itch and burn was getting to him, Dee could see that. And Remus’s voice still had that snarl when he said, “Whatever you say, stud.” Though he quickly amended that with: “If this goes off the rails, I’m taking your gun.”
Dee smiled thinly. “We’ll see about that.”
They got out of the car with Delia and Shanie in tow; they were two dark, angry figures slinking along behind them, searching the shadows for any sign of danger as they walked toward the lowly lit interior of the warehouse. Remus was twitchy in all kinds of ways, but Dee didn’t let it throw him off his groove. He knew what he needed to do. A good scare could do it. A good bluff was only effective if the threat hung over the situation just right.
So he put his hands in his pockets – calm, collected, look unworried – and rounded the open mouth of the warehouse doors. He saw the men immediately. A group of three—no, four, standing under the suspended light of the warehouse. Crates lined the walls… plenty of good wooden boxes that would give Patton the boost in popularity he desperately needed… so why were they struggling so much? Why weren’t these boxes getting to The Patron? Dee smelled a rat.
That smell got stronger when the contact, his contact, was talking to people he didn’t know.
“Johnny,” he said, startling his unfortunate contact and making him spin on his heel. The men standing with him looked equally startled to see Dee step into the thin circle of light that was cast by the lamp. He stood back, shoulder’s relaxed and expression bitterly amused. Johnny looked ready to croak then and there; he’d been caught selling Dee out. By Dee himself, no less. Still, Dee smiled. “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny… you old so-and-so.”
Johnny pushed the cash in his hands into his pockets. Dee was certain he saw a couple Benjamins slip into his back pockets, and Dee knew guilty money when he saw it. Johnny was looking around for an escape already, his eyes darting around the warehouse as his associates made slow moves for their guns.
“Mister… Mister Dee,” he said, his voice quivering like a man on a tightrope. Dee was armed with a pair of scissors, ready to send him falling. But he kept up the calm airs as Johnny sputtered, “Wha… I’m just. We were just—”
“Long time no see, Johnny,” said Dee with that calm smile. His eyes slid over to Johnny’s associates. Their hands were on their guns. They all knew they were three tense words away from a standoff. And Remus, on Dee’s right, didn’t have a gun. Carefully, Dee tried to maintain the balance he needed. “Who’re your friends? Don’t think I recognize a single face here. Do you, Shanie?”
From the shadows, Shanie’s voice came low and dangerous as they cocked their pistol with a sickening click. “No, boss. Not one.”
Dee made a perplexed face, just for the theatrics. “That’s real odd, Johnny… didn’t you promise me you’d keep workin’ for my interests?” He rocked on his heels, seeing the way the light cast Johnny in a sickening glow. “Did… did you lie to me, Johnny?”
“No!” Johnny said quickly. Dee could see his associates moving back a bit, but Delia and Shanie were watching, too. They had their guns in-hand… so did Johnny’s friends. A lovely little standoff with Dee and Johnny in the middle. Dee smiled darkly, and Johnny quivered. “This just—I didn’t want—”
“Cut the crap. I’m not in the mood for a song and dance.” Smoothly, Dee kept his hands in view as he reached over to Remus and pulled him back and out of the way. Just in case. Caution was sometimes necessary, as loathe as he was to utilize it. To his surprise, Remus took a stumbling step back. The movement was accompanied by a glare from the man, but Dee didn’t take his eyes off Johnny and his adversaries.
Remus, however, didn’t seem to understand the danger he was clearly in. How he was a veritable liability. How he was the one member of this entire interaction that was, on all fronts, expendable. He seemed to puff up like a ruffled bird, and if Dee wasn’t careful, he might say that Remus looked ready to smash Johnny’s skull in with a tire iron.
“It’s you?” he asked through clenched teeth. All eyes turned on him, and the shine of a pistol had never set Dee on edge like this before. He tried to push Remus further back to no avail; Remus pushed against him, taking a step forward. Toward Johnny. But more importantly, toward the guns that were now trained on him. “You’re the one screwing with Patty?”
Dee quirked an eyebrow. “Rather think he’s messing with me, kitten. But that’ll work.”
Remus wasn’t assuaged. He looked venomous and ready to bite; when he did, he’d surely take a chunk of flesh with him. With fire in his eyes, he snarled at Dee and ripped his arm out of his grip. Then, he turned on Johnny. The bastard in question didn’t stand a chance, and he cowered at the sight of Remus, feral and painfully sober.
“Why?” he asked, more growl than words. Dee caught himself sneaking a glance at Delia and Shanie. They were still watching Johnny’s associates carefully. With guns drawn and faces pinched unhappily, his lackies were coiled like clock springs. One false snap and they’d all be lead paperweights. Remus couldn’t read the room; he couldn’t seem to get outside his own head which was spiraling and angry at everything. And it showed when Remus grabbed Johnny by the collar and shook him hard. “Why the hell are you fucking with The Patron?”
“Remus—” Dee said, only to be made painfully aware of the guns being raised.
None of them were pointed at him.
With a jolt, Dee realized he was… he was scared. Scared? That was new. He wasn’t used to that feeling. There was anger, of course. A lot of damn irritation when people were poking their noses in his business, but there was nothing like fear to make a man reassess his current standing with the world.
He was horrified at the possibility of Remus going up with the gunsmoke. Terrified of having to drag himself back home and away from the body, where they would have to put it somewhere else to be discovered. Mortified at the idea of having to stumble back into Patton’s office and tell him—tell him… oh, god. Oh god, he couldn’t do this. He shouldn’t have brought Remus with him, no matter how wild and fiery he was. He couldn’t work with Remus putting himself in the line of fire.
Frantic, Dee raised his hands and loudly said: “Everyone stop!”
Remus turned on him, a sharp, flickering glare pointed at him over his shoulder. The guns were still in the light, all trained toward the middle of the room. All trained toward Remus, and subsequently Johnny, who was still captive by the lapels. Delia and Shanie were silent, stiff as stone. Johnny’s men were icy as their guns, cocked and loaded, begged for a reason to be fired.
Maybe Remus didn’t see his hands shaking. Maybe Remus didn’t see a lot of things in that warehouse. But Dee could feel the tremble in his fingers. He felt anger rise up in his chest; an indignant kind of bubbling that felt like boiling tar at the base of his throat. How could someone be angry at themselves for being scared? The knowledge that the fear didn’t do anything for the situation didn’t help. He was spinning his wheels.
Oh dear lord… was this how Patton felt all the time? Helpless and fighting it all to net zero? That poor, poor man. Dee would have to kiss him and apologize later.
‘I’m sorry, Patton,’ he’d say once he was safely within the walls of Patton’s office. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t realize how all-encompassing your self-loathing could be.’
“Johnny,” Dee finally said, breaking through the thick silence. “You’re selling out my suppliers.”
There was no room for argument. Johnny went looking to his associates for help, but they provided nothing. Not even a twitch of their eyebrows. Dee saw one of them flex their grip on the gun. Lousy discipline. Dee didn’t have the time or luxury to play coy anymore.
“We can all walk away from this easy,” he said lowly, his eyes glinting in the sallow light of the warehouse, “You give me a name, and I let you leave with all your fingers and toes.”
Johnny looked for an out. He craned his neck, flustered and unable to untangle himself from Remus’s grip as he struggled. Remus didn’t loosen his hold, and Dee felt panic spark in his stomach when Remus’s fingers tightened on Johnny’s lapels.
“I… I don’t—” Johnny managed to sputter just a bit. “I’m not—"
“A name!” Remus shouted, raising the tension so high, Dee could feel is crowding around his neck and choking him. He narrowed his eyes, and Remus gave Johnny a good, hard shake. One that was firm enough to make Johnny’s head snap back as if he had whiplash. “Dammit, you’re fuckin’ with the wrong bar!”
Dee stepped forward to take his shoulder. He saw those tense hands. The flex of those fingers. Too close to the guns, too far from safety. “Remus—"
“Tell us who paid you!” Remus shouted, earning distant, dark looks from Johnny’s associates. The men that were paying him. The men that really had the answers. They took several steps back, trying to remove themselves from the situation. Or perhaps just trying to get some distance before the guns went off and the splatter hit their suitcoats.
Taking Remus’s shoulder, Dee tugged him back a solid step and managed to say, “Remus, don’t—”
But Remus shook him off. Hands shaking. Eyes wild and angry. He looked to Johnny. He wound up to punch him, just to get his point across. But the point was already made. Johnny would crack like an eye on the pavement. He was an easy scare. An easy liability.
And his associates knew this.
In a flurry of movement, Dee took Remus and pulled him back so hard, Remus stumbled, tripped, and fell back against the floor. Good thing, too. The guns went off and left Dee’s ears ringing. There were those telltale flashes of light, just a spark that made him wince and blink a few times, just to get the spots out of his eyes. Johnny was hit no less than three times, looking startled and surprised by this turn of events before he wobbled, hesitated, and crumbled to the ground.
While Dee’s ears rang with a high-pitched shriek, he watched Delia and Shanie as they pursued Johnny’s associates. They had started to run, trying to escape in the gun smoke of a firefight, but Delia and Shanie were damn good shots. Both of their targets were stumbling along on borrowed time.
Instinctively, Dee checked himself for any knicks or holes. There was no burning. No aching. He turned to Remus, seeing him sitting up on the floor with a dazed look on his face. There was blood on his face, but it wasn’t his. That was the spray from the brand-new hole in Johnny’s shoulder. Two more muffled shots rang out – at least, from what Dee could hear; he knew not to worry about the others. Delia and Shanie had them. Instead, Dee looked down at Johnny, who was gasping up at the ceiling of the warehouse like a fish on land.
Going to him, Dee ground his heel into Johnny’s shoulder and hearing a faint, muffled, agonized shout under all the ringing in his ears. Finally, he had regained some sense of control over the situation, even if it was quickly spiraling
“Give me a name!” He shouted. At least, he felt like he was shouting it. He felt his vocal cords strain and the rumble of his voice in his chest, but the sound of his own voice was odd and warped in his ears. It had been a long time since he’d been that close to a gunshot. They were efficient, that was for sure. But lead pipes and broken knees tended to send messages better than corpses. Less chances of being caught, anyway. But that wasn’t the point. He was standing over Johnny, watching him writhe as he – presumably – choked on cries of pain. “Give me a name, Johnny! Who is doing this? Who is going against me?”
Johnny coughed, and Dee saw blood fleck on his lips. He coughed again. Then he began to choke as more blood welled up in the back of his throat. Dee leaned back and away. There was a bullet hole in Johnny’s chest. Dammit. He wasn’t about to let all that fruitless suffering go on. He was a mobster, not a monster. Irritably, Dee pulled his gun out of his breast pocket. He glanced back at Remus.
“Cover your ears,” he said to him, only pausing to repeat himself when Remus blinked sluggishly and stared at Johnny. After a moment, Remus raised his eyes to Dee, and he lifted his hands to his ears. It wouldn’t be much, but it was better than nothing. He aimed his gun, lifted his head to look away, and pulled the trigger.
Johnny stopped writhing.
It wasn’t even five minutes before Delia and Shanie returned to the center of the warehouse, their faces looking like mirror images of distaste and disappointment. They didn’t have Johnny’s associates with them, but there was a looseness to their shoulders that gave away the fact that they didn’t escape. They just weren’t going to be coming with them as captives. He would be lying if he said this didn’t disappoint him spectacularly; another dead end.
With a bitter twist of his face, Dee pulled his hat low and glared down at Johnny’s corpse. He should’ve just given them the information. Then again, Johnny shouldn’t have turned on him at all. On one hand, a fact. On the other, an ultimatum. On a third, the unsatisfactory truth. Dee didn’t have three hands, so he took a deep breath… and sighed.
After rubbing his ears a bit, Dee managed to regain most of his normal hearing as he turned to look at Remus. Remus, who was still sitting on the floor of the warehouse. Remus who was strangely still and oddly quiet. Remus, who for all intents and purposes, had said he wanted to pull the trigger. Now he was looking at the blood pooling on the floor, watching the watery edges of it come reaching for him. Dee reached down to offer him a hand, and Remus took it.
His hands shook. Fear was evident. This was something Remus had not expected; no one really anticipates the significance of taking a life. Not until it was laid out for them. And now, rotten and wrecked, they stood next to a lifeless body that was still warm. Dee grimaced, handed his gun to Shanie for them to dispose of, and put his arm around Remus’s shoulders. Remus allowed himself to be steered away from Johnny, though he cast strange, perturbed glances at him over his shoulder.
They returned to the car. Delia got into the back, her eyes lingering on Shanie as they handled the guns. They said they’d get a cab. Dee didn’t remark on this. Remus was shellshocked and quiet on the drive home. Once inside, Dee waved Delia away to do some digging on Johnny’s ‘friends.’ They were going to find out who they were if it took them all night.
Remus, however, went straight to Dee’s bedroom. Like it would save him. Like it was a haven from whatever was happening in his head. Dee followed behind him, hanging his coat and hat by the door and slowly trailing after his songbird. It was too quiet. So quiet, he wondered if Remus was plotting something. But no… no, Remus didn’t have that much forethought. Remus acted on impulse. This… well, it seemed an awful lot like shock.
Once they were in his bedroom, Dee went to his washroom, removing his bloody shoes and putting them in the wastebin for later. Then he inspected his hands, shirt, and face for blood spatter. A drop here, a stain there… easy to manage. He changed out of his gunsmoke-smudged clothing and into a clean pair of trousers and button-up shirt. The other clothes joined the shoes in the wastebin.
When he exited his washroom, Remus was sitting on the bed. His shirt was removed (much to Dee’s appreciation) and he was staring at the blood spattered along the pale green fabric (much to Dee’s dismay). From the looks of it, he was practically unharmed. There wasn’t a bruise or bullet hole to be found. This was a small victory in the shadow of Remus’s expression.
He was quiet. Dee had always tended to like the quiet, but not like this.
Never like this.
Stopping a few meters away from the bed, Dee pushed his hands into his pockets and cocked his head to the side. “What’s on, songbird?” He asked, testing the waters of conversation. Remus seemed to glower at his sullied shirt. Dee thinned his lips and tried to wave it away. “I can buy you a new shirt, dollface. No stress.”
That didn’t seem to be what Remus wanted to hear. He simply pushed and pulled the fabric under his fingers, his eyes trained on the red spots as if they were offending him. When he spoke, it was softly. Unbefitting of someone normally so wild and colorful. He was muted in sepia, and Dee knew their altercation at the warehouse caused it.
Fixing it was the problem. Unless this was something that couldn’t be fixed. That remained to be seen.
Fidgeting, Dee tried to salvage the situation. “You ain’t hurt, are you?”
Remus’s voice was dark. “No.”
Dee hated how the works didn’t seem to behave right in his mouth; it didn’t make sense to him. He was a con and a cad. Why he couldn’t sweettalk his lover into relaxation? Maybe the gunshots had gone to his head. Maybe he wasn’t thinking straight. Maybe… maybe the last time he’d seen someone like this was when he was with Patton. Maybe the last time something like this happened, Patton looked at him and cried. And maybe, just maybe, Dee had said the wrong thing.
Remus looked at his shirt, and Dee tried to think of what he’d said to Patton. Or perhaps he tried not to think of it at all. “The blood won’t come out,” he said. Remus didn’t react. “I’ll buy you a new one, Remus. Don’t—”
“I don’t give a shit about the shirt, Dee.”
Well. That was that, wasn’t it? Dee pursed his lips. This conversation wasn’t over. “You were all over the place, Remus. Unpredictable. When you’re unpredictable, everything can go wrong. I wasn’t willing to—” he paused, swallowed his pride, and said, “I wasn’t willing to roll the dice on that. Not like that. Not with you.”
Remus hesitated. “They were gonna shoot me.”
This wasn’t a question.
“They were gonna kill me because… he was gonna talk?”
That was a reasonable assumption. “Yeah.” Dee kept the distance between them. It felt like they both needed it to breathe. The silence stretched out like a leather chord, and Dee was desperate for a pair of sheers just to cut the damn thing and have this unease go away. “Easy to get rid of the liabilities. They don’t want me going fishing for answers, the chumps… well.” He shrugged loosely, like it didn’t matter. “They’re dead now.”
That seemed to be a cause for deep consideration on Remus’s part, and he thought for a long while.
“You know,” Remus said lowly, his words coming through thoughtless and tired. “I know how much blood is in a person.”
Dee blinked. Remus stared at his shirt, and Dee realized Remus wanted some sort of prompt, though it was wholly unnecessary. Dee, willing to please, murmured a gentle: “Oh?”
“Got stabbed once,” he said lightly. As if it didn’t really matter. “By an old flame. He has high as a damn kite, so he wasn’t really… he wasn’t really himself. Probably a bad sign on his part, but I wasn’t… I don’t know. Thought I had it coming. Anyway. It wasn’t so bad, considering… but… you don’t really realize. How much blood is in a person until you’re watching it all come out.” He thought for a moment, looking at the blood spatter on his shirt. Then he seemed to steel himself at the sight. “… I’ve been through hell.”
“Yeah,” Dee said.
“Lived through shit. Got stabbed by one cat, smuggled in a closet by another, the next got me into cocaine and…” he stopped, seemed to see something beyond his hands, and went quiet.
“Yeah,” Dee repeated for lack of better response. His hands were clenched in his pockets as he fought to remain neutral and attentive.
He wanted to know the names of these ‘old flames.’ Just so he could find them and cross off their names like a laundry-list of things to Take Care Of. But that wasn’t the point of this conversation. It really wasn’t. Dee just couldn’t for the life of him figure out what the hell was the point.
Quietly, he went to the bed and sat himself down. Remus glowered, but it was just aimed at the floor this time. His hands still shook, but it was more of a symptom than a result. Dee made no move to comment on this. Instead, he waited. And Remus huffed.
“You know, I… I got used to it. The whole… string of bad lovers. I got used to the second shoe dropping and everything going up in flames. Figured that’s what I deserved. I was a stupid kid with nothing to do and no one to care… me and Roman, we was…” he paused, scratched at his hair, and then growled unhappily. “I don’t even know what we were doin.’”
“Surviving, if I had to guess.”
“Was that it?” Remus asked him, his eyes finally flickering to Dee. Bloodshot to hell, those beautiful, beautiful eyes stared at him. Unfocused. Trying to see into him. Dee didn’t flinch, not that he had to. Remus broke first. His gaze slunk away like a wounded animal. “Not sure that’s what it was, Big Daddy. Not even sure what the hell we were playing at. Music makin’? Maybe. Thinkin’ we’d strike a big cat like a damn goldmine and get… recognized. Put on a stage.”
What did this have to do with anything?
“Thought maybe… maybe if we were just lucky enough. That if the right sucker came along and looked at us, we’d have it made. If we could just… find the right one. Roman fell head over heels before everyone that smiled and I just… followed the money. Easy scent. I just wanted us to have it done. To have… something. Hands in the butter, you know?”
Dee did not know.
“Doesn’t work like that, though.” Remus said through a tight jaw. His mustache twitched and Dee itched to reach out and curl the ends like he used to. When he could get Remus to smile wickedly and laugh at Dee’s smug, besotted smile. He couldn’t. Not now. Remus huffed and looked down at the shirt in his hands. “Life ain’t that easy.”
“It never is, baby.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. I know that. I’m not stupid.”
“Never said you were.”
Remus paused with his eyes still fixed on the fabric. “I didn’t know he would… have so much blood.”
There it was. Now it came full circle.
Dee reached a hand over to Remus, to touch his back, to console him… but the action felt ingenuine. Like he couldn’t really make this better as it stood. So he let the hand drop to the blankets once more. Remus didn’t look at him, and that was fine.
“You think you know,” he said, like he had to explain himself. Dee tilted his head to the side, showing he was listening. “You… you think you know how much blood is in a person. You get stabbed once and think, ‘well, shit, didn’t know I had it in me!’ and you’re not even talking about… ha, it’s just—it’s…” he stopped, threaded his fingers through the fabric of his shirt… and let it fall to the floor. His eyes looked haunted. “Didn’t think it would be like that,” he said. “Didn’t think… there’d be that much blood.”
Dee wasn’t sure what to say to that. “You never see a man get his ticket punched?”
“No,” Remus admitted hollowly. “Not like that. Not up close and not… not like that.”
Dee nodded slowly. He wasn’t sure what this shock felt like. Once upon a time, he might’ve known. But being born into a family of practiced, business-driven killings was sure to foster a low level of intolerance. He just wasn’t bothered anymore. And yet, when he thought of Remus being injured, he was sent into a blind panic. Maybe he was going soft. Or maybe he’d gone soft long ago, considering he still stuck out his neck for Patton on a daily basis.
Maybe that’s just what love was.
Quietly, Dee put a hand between Remus’s shoulder blades, holding the weight there and feeling the way the muscles shifted as Remus pivoted to look at him. They stared at each other for a moment, gauging… whatever was happening between them. Then, Remus twitched his mustache thoughtfully.
“You pulled me outta the way,” he said. This wasn’t a question.
“’Course I did, baby.”
Remus narrowed his eyes. “You were right there. If they’d missed Johnny, you would’ve—”
“I know what happens when a trigger gets pulled, Remus.”
For a long moment, Remus stared at him with those tired, strained eyes. The ones that clearly itched for something to calm him down. Eyes that begged for something more… but Remus didn’t ask for drugs. He didn’t even whine about them. He stared, and then muttered:
“Never been with someone that put me first.”
And dammit, that cut deep. How dare he assume that Dee was some good-hearted, singer-loving, head-over-heels bastard? How dare he think that Dee was putting him first? How dare he say that Dee didn’t want him to be in any damn danger?
He had no right being correct.
Then, like he wasn’t waiting for a response, Remus went on. “If I wasn’t there… you could’ve gotten your names. You coulda scared him into it. I know you. You’d use your scary smile on him.”
Dee raised his eyebrows and tilted his head coyly. “Scary smile?” He repeated. “Me?”
“Yeah. That one you use when you’re playing it loud and proud with a bluff that’ll knock out a powerline.” Remus snorted, the first Remus-y sound he’d made since they returned. Then, he looked a little perturbed. “… Don’t think I’ve ever seen you use that smile on me.”
Letting his fingers drag down Remus’s spine, Dee hummed. “Don’t think I’d have to, songbird.”
That was another thing that made Remus pause, and he fidgeted with his hands restlessly. “If I… hadn’t needed my fix, I wouldn’t have been there. If I wasn’t there, then… Patty wouldn’t be strugglin’. If I—”
“If the sun stopped chasing the moon, we’d all be out of a tide and out of a morning.” Dee shrugged. “What good is looking back? It happened. You can’t change that now. You’re alive. That’s what matters.” Remus rolled his eyes and it made Dee smile. Gingerly, he reached up to push some of Remus’s curly hair from his eyes. Remus gave him a dark look that sent lightning over his skin. “What’s got you, songbird? This is all fixable. I’ll get my man. I always do.” He paused to cock his head to the side curiously. “It ain’t like you to worry about everything else.”
Remus’s lips curled in distaste and he looked away. Dee didn’t chase him. Not yet, not when this wasn’t the fun chase they usually pursued. Remus took a breath, held it, and then let it all out in a sigh that could’ve spun windmills.
“I guess this whole… ‘get sober to go back to normal’ bullshit is wearing me out, fat cat. Thought messing around and shooting someone up would help distract, but…” a beat, “Don’t think I can manage it.” That made Dee frown, but Remus followed up with, “Not sure if I know what… normal really is. Picking pockets?”
“Ooooh,” Dee said indulgently. Remus perked up.
“Fishing jewelry out of purses?”
“A good pickpocket could take the watch right off a man’s wrist,” Remus smiled smugly. “A great pickpocket can get a man’s wallet while whispering somethin’ real nice in his ear.”
Dee narrowed his eyes but didn’t fight his smile. “Sound like cheating to me.”
But Remus was already reaching for him, kissing him and pushing them back against the pillows. There was a strange, fluttering urgency to each kiss. Less about scratching an itch and more like Remus needed the pressure of Dee against him. As if proximity could solve it all. As if this was the ‘normal’ he was trying to chase, and god, if it was, then Dee would let this be ‘normal’ for the rest of his life.
He managed to get his thumbs hooked on Remus’s beltloops when Remus lifted himself onto his elbows to look at him. Really look at him. Dee almost wanted to be bothered by the scrutiny, but the glimmer in Remus’s eyes gave away his benign curiosity.
“Hey,” Remus said after a few seconds. Dee shifted to fold a hand behind his head calmly.
“Hi, pretty boy.”
Remus cracked a smile, then rested his chin in the palm of his hand, almost like he had to sit and stare at Dee for a long, long while. Like he was a puzzle. Remus didn’t have the patience for puzzles, though. Dee narrowed his eyes, and Remus was blunt as he said: “When are you gonna tell me who you really are?”
Dee blinked. “I’m… Dee. You know that.”
“Yeah, yeah, the super famous Mr. Dee and all that garbage—but really,” Remus said, his eyes staring into Dee’s intently. “Why the big secret, hot stuff? Do I ever get to know?”
For a moment, Dee could only stare at him. His name was a tricky thing. Give people a name, and they can trace all the way back to the start of you. Give people a name, and they know all of your vulnerabilities. Your connections. The people you hate and the people you love, all combined in a neat category assigned… to a name. Dee stared at him.
Had he ever planned to give Remus his name? Or was this his opportunity to make himself into something new? Something other than what he was. Something other than Patton’s little Janus-beast. Something stronger. Better. Something that had no connection to his past. Something that meant Remus wouldn’t be able to look back, point, and say: “That was you? Oh, Janus,” in that soft, pitying tone. The time before his scars. The time before his first kill. The time before he was ‘Mr. Dee’… these were all long-past and long ago.
And was he willing to share that vulnerability? Was he willing to let go of years of discretion just because this man asked him? Maybe. Most likely. He knew he was hopeless when it came to Remus. He knew that he was stupid with feelings and too sharp to put them into nice words or actions. Too sharp, Patton always told him. Too sharp and pointy.
Well, this was as close to a rounded edge as he was going to get.
“Janus,” he said quietly, like a prayer in the low light of the room. Remus stared down at him with eyes that glowed intently. His dark skin played magic with the shadows, and the curl of his hair fell like a curtain over his brow. Dee stared up at him and he wasn’t quite sure what he felt. This revelation didn’t seem to stick right away. And he was more baffled as he repeated: “My name is Janus.”
“Janus,” Remus repeated. Then he repeated it again. Then three times, like he had to practice the name. After a moment of thought, he said: “I just watched Janus shoot a backstabber to death.”
Dee—no, Janus. He was Janus, wasn’t he? After so long under his own guise… he was Janus. And Janus smiled wryly. “Nah, nah… you saw Dee shoot a man to death. Big difference, dollface.”
Remus made a show of knocking on Janus’s forehead. “You got more than one of you in there? Do I get to crack open your head and poke around to find out?”
Janus snickered. “Wouldn’t you just love that?”
Remus folded his hands on Janus’s chest and settled down. “Janus,” he said. It tingled to hear it. Like someone running their fingers through his hair and giving a little tug. Then again, “Janus.”
“I heard you the first time.”
A pause. Then, “This might be stupid,” he said, “But I think I get what Roman says about Logan.”
Janus tilted his chin – pulling at his neck uncomfortably – to look Remus in the eye. “How’s that, songbird?”
“I get it when he says all that sappy crap.” The words were so painfully soft. So strangely gentle. Remus looked at him sleepily, wrung out from withdrawal and shock. Tired and willing to sleep. And yet, so ready to look at him… and smile. “I get it. All that… ‘I love him’ stuff. I get it.”
“You’re right,” Janus said lowly. “That is stupid.” Remus pinched his side, and Janus laughed a bit before he ran a loose hand through Remus’s curls. That was all it took for Remus to lower his head and close his eyes. Janus took a deep breath. (Janus… he would have to get used to his own name again. Funny how that could fall out of use.) And with a sigh, he closed his eye. “I think I get it, too. All that… ‘I love him’ stuff.” He felt Remus laughing against his chest, more fond than irritated. And Janus smiled. “It definitely makes more sense than half that crap that’s going on in this damn city.”
“Well, now you’re just whining.” Remus reached up to blindly pat Janus’s face. It worked. He slapped a hand right into Janus’s cheek. There he pinched at the sides of Janus’s mouth and muttered, “Put your mouth to better use.”
Janus gently removed the hand on his face and thought for a moment. “Is that an order?”
Remus perked up, looking far too excited. “Is it?” He asked gleefully. Janus sighed.
This was going to be a long night.
Chicago – October 9th, 1921
A month had come and gone too quickly. A month of Janus relearning how to respond to his own name (now that Remus was using it). A month of Remus learning not to ask for his coca-wine concoction (though he still craved it). And a month of Janus spinning his wheels and wanting to tear his hair out searching for the source of Patton’s lost suppliers. He was a dog at the dinner table, finding only the smallest scraps and remnants of what he desired: answers.
He’d done stakeouts, tail-missions, and even the most boring forms of bribery. It amounted to dead-ends on the docks and empty alleys when there should be deals. Whoever was fiddling with his livelihood obviously wasn’t scared of him. And no matter how many times Janus assured Patton that it was being taken care of, that he was in capable hands, and that he didn’t need to worry about the supplies – as he was still well-stocked – Patton still worried.
This may have also had something to do with the fact that Remus had yet to return to the stage.
It was a difficult work in progress, that was for damn sure. But Remus had been sober for a month, and that was no easy feat. Smoking ordinary cigarettes was always a good distraction, and after a few minutes of that, he would stop his fidgeting and he would ask Dee how long it took to drown someone with cinderblock shoes.
The answer was “typically five to seven minutes,” though Remus had seemed disappointed with that answer. Especially when Janus tacked on, “We don’t have to resort to that often,” just so he could smile and wink. This was beside the point.
Remus hadn’t returned to The Patron for good reason, and now with a month of sobriety under his belt, Janus deemed him ready to step back up on his bright and shiny stage. Remus was practically itching for the chance to get back up there and sing, but there was still a hint of hesitation in his every movement. Most likely because he hadn’t spoken to Roman the entire time he was away.
From what Remus had told him, they had never gone through such a long stint of silence before. And no matter how much Remus laughed it off, played it for a joke, or pretended not to care… it was clearly wearing on him. And so, after a month of grueling quiet and Remus tearing apart his home whilst angry and fitful and fighting his addiction, they drove to The Patron an hour before opening, eager to put Remus back into place. It was like putting the last glass bottle in the last open shelf. Perfectly aligned, just as they were all meant to be.
When they entered through the front door of The Patron, it was despairingly quiet. The band had yet to pick up their instruments to warm up, and not even Roman chatted with them up on the stage. It was all nervous whispers and conspiratorial glances. Like they knew everything was going to come crashing down at any moment and they were just waiting for it. Janus never knew that they would be the on-land recreation of the Titanic’s monumental sinking. Could history repeat itself so soon?
Remus didn’t seem to mind the quiet, though. Not with this odd mood staining his vibrant presence. He was like a soggy towel, heavy with something that Janus almost wanted to call guilt, and he shuffled through the tables ahead of Janus without a word. He knew where to go. Janus was just along for the ride in case things took a sharp left turn.
Roman was perched on the edge of the stage with one leg hanging over and kicking lazily. Janus arched an eyebrow at the sight; interesting. Logan wasn’t with him? The joint was hardly open. It was curious that Logan and Roman weren’t tangled together like they usually were. Not that Janus really cared, in the end. He simply admired the way Roman lifted his head, saw Remus, and seemed to sputter and pop like a lightbulb that turns on only to burn out right after. Had he missed Remus? Definitely. Was he still bitter over the way Remus left the bar two weeks earlier? Absolutely.
After kicking himself down from the stage – the band in the pit stopped what they were doing to watch this with suspicious interest – Roman and Remus met halfway between the stage and the tables. Remus didn’t smile, and Remus didn’t even look him in the eye. He shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels a bit. This was more awkward than a run-in with a priest at a strip club.
Janus hung back, leaving himself a bit in the shadows to avoid pulling all of the attention from Remus. Roman didn’t like him, of course. And at any moment, Roman would gratefully shift his anger to Janus… but this wasn’t about him. It was Remus and his outburst that led them to that moment. The wine, the cocaine, the lights and the sounds… it brought them back here, to Patton’s bar, like a big show of symmetry. Right back where they started.
After what felt like too long, Roman finally mumbled, “Hey.”
Remus, ever the elegant speaker, still didn’t look Roman in the eye as he showed him his middle finger and said, “Hey,” right back.
Janus wanted to say something. To say, ‘That’s not quite how you make up.’ But he doubted it needed to be said. He didn’t really have siblings. Maybe rude gestures were, in fact, the path to recovery. Patton and Lollie’s screaming match had seemed cathartic, at least.
And to his surprise, Roman’s grimace broke. First it was a small smile, then a grin, and then, with a fond shake of his head, he laughed. The sound was so soft, it could be mistaken for a cough. But he laughed. And then he reached out… and shoved Remus. Just a bit. Just enough to make him stumble back. Remus looked at him. For a moment, his shoulders were tense. His hands curled into fists. Janus narrowed his eyes; did he actually have to step in?
Remus moved before he could think to do so, and Janus watched as Remus shoved Roman hard. Roman went stumbling back several steps, but he wasn’t angry. He laughed again. And Remus… Remus joined him. They shoved each other a bit more, but now it seemed like they were just trying to figure out how to put a hand on the other’s shoulder without lingering too long. Like they had to make sure the other was there, alive and alright, before laughing it all off at the other’s expense.
Was that… was that siblings? Maybe Janus was just too far from the word of brothers and sisters to understand what this laughing and pushing was supposed to mean.
Instead, he stood to the side with his hands in his pockets. He had a lead to follow, and he was keen to get that started. With his eyes flickering to the bar, he saw Patton’s lanky barback fiddling with a small wooden crate of rum. While Roman and Remus continued to slap at each other, Janus reached out to touch the small of Remus’s back. This caused their little fight to pause, and Remus looked back at him with glittering, mischievous eyes.
Remus grinned. “I’m always right, hotshot.” He didn’t get a chance to say anything more as the backup singers from the stage spotted him and began to shriek excitedly. It was just a chorus of Remus’s name, and as soon as it got his attention, Remus swiveled to see them. “Girls!” He shouted, throwing his hands into the air. “Vicky! Genie! Scarlet! My girls! Look at you, a sight for sore eyes!”
With a bold sweep of his arm, Remus grabbed Roman’s face while saying, “Get outta here, you ugly mug, I need to see my girls!” and skittered over to the stage where he was bombarded by a sea of sequins and laughter and kisses. The man would be covered in mutli-colored lip stains before the bar even opened. It made Roman and the band laugh, and Janus could only smile.
Remus was back in his element, ready to shock the world and set it on fire just for the glow.
His eyes slid back over to the bar. Patton’s barback was gone. With narrowed eyes, Janus put his hands in his pockets and started for the back door, eager to catch him in the quiet of the loading dock… only to be interrupted by a damningly familiar face.
Patton stepped out of his office and looked at him with wide eyes. “J—Dee!” He said, all flushed cheeks and lips that almost wanted to turn up in a smile. He was clearly happy to see him after so long away – the money still came to him, so he wasn’t completely dead in the water for a month. But still, it was clear that he was looking for someone else. “You’re early! Is… is Remus here? Is he alright? How’s he been? Eating well?”
Janus forced a smile to his face as he leaned forward to pinch Patton’s cheek. “Always such a little busybody, Patty-cake. Does it ever get tiring?”
Patton laughed, though it was high and caught in his throat. Janus knew a fake laugh when he heard it. “You’d be surprised.” No, he really wouldn’t. “But… Remus…?”
Janus nodded his head toward the main bar, his eyes stuck on the back door that open a sliver. “Out with his girls.”
“Oh… and… and he and Roman, did they…?”
“They shoved each other.”
Patton blinked. “Alright?”
Janus gave a hopeless shrug. “I don’t know, Patty. Is that how you and Lols would make up?”
With a scrunched little expression that Janus almost found kissable, Patton thought for a moment. Then he shrugged. “Not sure. Maybe? Depends on the shove.”
“Well, they laughed.” Janus supplied as he watched the door. “That’s promising.” Patton concluded that he didn’t have Janus’s attention, and he started to step away. But Janus caught his arm, holding Patton captive. Patton wasn’t worried in the least, and he gave Janus a curious look. Janus met him with calculated eyes. “That barback of yours.” Patton’s cheeks flushed a fresh scarlet. “Where’d you find him?”
Patton blinked. “I… on the street, ‘suppose? He was tall. Strong. I needed a barback. I offered him a job on the spot.”
Janus gave him a long, hard look. Patton was a terrible liar, and this didn’t seem like a lie. He was just genuinely confused as to why Janus would care. There was no apprehension. No fidgeting. Just vague confusion. After a moment, Janus released his arm and kissed Patton’s hairline.
“Go see Remus, Patty. And get a glass of water.”
Patton touched his hair and muttered, “Water?” while he wandered away, but Janus didn’t mind. He slipped out of the back door and onto the loading dock. There, at the base of the ramp that led to a small, rundown truck, stood Patton’s barback. Tall. Strong. Wire-thin and fidgeting with anxiety. No one was even out there with him and he looked ready to fight his way out.
With a forceful shove, Janus slammed the back door shut. Just to startle Virgil. Just to make him jump and turn to look at him. Janus smiled, and Virgil’s panicked gaze quickly turned sour.
“What the hell are you doing back here?” He asked, as if he wasn’t the one who was in line for interrogation. Janus tilted his head coyly, and Virgil looked at him with dark eyes. “You’re not supposed to be out here. Don’t you have a mob to run?”
“Don’t you have boxes to move?” Janus shot back smoothly. Virgil frowned and shuffled over to the crates in the back of the truck, reluctantly pulling them out of the bed and down to the ground. Janus lingered at the top of the ramp, thinking… then he slowly walked down. Virgil watched him carefully, like a spooked animal. And it wasn’t until Janus had gotten halfway down the ramp that Virgil stopped moving crates. He just held still. Watching. Janus held firm halfway down the ramp. “Patton tells me he found you on the street. Offered you an easy job. That true?”
Virgil didn’t answer. It wasn’t like Janus was with the law. He couldn’t arrest Virgil for his answer. Still, Virgil didn’t seem keen on giving him anything. So he was quiet, and Janus narrowed his eyes.
“Where did you say you were before Patton found you?”
“I didn’t,” Virgil replied coldly.
“Yeah?” Janus probed, eyeing the way Virgil tensed like he was going to bolt. “Yeah, you didn’t come from the docks?”
Virgil narrowed his eyes. “Can’t tell if you’re sayin’ that because you’re trying to pin something to me… or because you’re racist.”
Janus blinked. “What the hell does your race have to do with it?” Virgil looked a little surprised by that, and Janus lifted the hands in his pockets in a vague, faux-casual shrug. “I’m trying to figure out where you came from. And if you’re from the docks, then we need to have a little chat. No stakes, no threats… just a little tongue-waggin’. Like pals, just without the funny business.”
Virgil hesitated. That was a half-descent sign… but there was always the chance that he was simply paranoid. He’d earned that right a long time ago.
“And if I’m not?” He asked. “What then?”
Janus gave him another shrug, just for the hint of unimportance it gave the air. “Then I drop it, ‘suppose. You’re no good if you don’t have information.” Virgil’s jaw clenched and unclenched, and Janus narrowed his eyes. “So? Did you work down at the docks?”
“No,” Virgil said almost immediately. “No, I didn’t.”
Janus smiled. “Good.” And with his hands in his pockets, he turned on his heels and went for the door. Almost immediately, Virgil was moving crates again. It was clear that he was relieved. And in many ways, so was Janus. One more door was opened. One more chance, one more possibility. He didn’t have to keep spinning his wheels with the possibility of Lollie. No, he had something else.
Now he knew that Virgil was a liar.
Every now and then I'll rise from the dead to provide you with something. If anyone is even reading this story still haha!
Thank you for reading.